The Press Council of India has issued a bailable warrant against the editor of Kannada daily, Vijaya Karnataka, for not appearing for proceedings in a hate speech complaint against an article published by the newspaper in March 2020, The News Minute reported on Thursday.

Campaign Against Hate Speech, a voluntary group of lawyers, writers, and activists working to recognise and hold hate speech in the media accountable, had filed the complaint. In a tweet, it said that the warrant of arrest of Rs 5,000 was issued on February 25.

The article was published in the March 28, 2020, edition of Vijaya Karnataka and held the Muslim community responsible for the spread of coronavirus, according to The News Minute.

In another tweet, Campaign Against Hate Speech said that they had approached the Press Council of India on May 11, 2020 against the article titled, “All those who have died from corona are from the same community why do they still come together in the name of prayers?”

Vijaya Karnataka did not appear for hearings despite being summoned twice by the Press Council of India, according to Campaign Against Hate Speech.

“Only if a person fails to appear before the PCI after being summoned at least once, can the council issue a bailable warrant,” journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, a former member of the Press Council of India, told The News Minute. “To my memory, this is the first time the Council has taken such a decision.”

The press body has powers to issue summons under Section 15 A of the Press Council of India Act.

Media reportage of Tablighi Jamaat gathering

Last year, the Supreme Court had said that it was “dissatisfied and disappointed” by the central government’s stand in a case related to the media reportage of members of the Tablighi Jamaat. A congregation held by the Islamic missionary sect was blamed for thousands of coronavirus infections around the country in the initial weeks of the countrywide lockdown in March 2020.

The event had renewed stigma against Muslims, triggering a wave of business boycotts and hate speech towards them. Relentless social media slander included the use of hashtags like #CoronaJihad. TV news channels like ABP Live called members of the Jamaat “manav bomb” or human bomb, a sentiment echoed by BJP leaders, including former Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis. Sudhir Chaudhary of Zee News said on his show that the “Tablighi Jamaat betrayed the nation”.

However, several courts have dismissed charges against the members and expressed concern about media coverage on the matter. In September, the Bombay High Court had quashed first information reports against a few members of the Tablighi Jamaat, saying that there was no evidence to show they indulged in any act, which was likely to spread the infection. In another judgement in August, the High Court said that the foreigners were made “scapegoats” and that the action against them was an “indirect warning to Indian Muslims” after the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act.