On Sunday, some news channels in Karnataka spread rumors regarding a child’s death; they attributed it to the Pulse Polio program, which was not the case. And this act let to utter chaos-
A regular polio drops campaign went haywire with rumours of children dying after the vaccination spread fast creating mayhem in Bangalore in the last two days. The campaign saw more than 5.5 lakh children being vaccinated in the city.
The trouble started when a local television channel reported the death of two children from the polio vaccine. More than 15,000 parents rushed their children to hospitals and for over eight hours there was mayhem in the city’s hospitals.
With a shortage of doctors to reassure the crowds, and a shortage of oral dehydration salts powders (general prescription), the angry parents and relatives of children went on a violent spree, breaking glass and stoning ambulances in the hospital premises.
In this post on Churumuri, the writer recommends (well, asks) the filing of criminal cases against the channel-
Lastly, should the reporter, who was responsible for filing the story without checking for facts, and the editor, who cleared it without bothering to verify the claim, be hauled up and criminal charges framed against them?
And that has happened. According to India Today, 14 cases have been filed against the channel under S505 of the Indian Penal Code.
Some people may find rumor mongering distasteful (though they don’t mind office grapevines, or chit chatting about their neighbors), and it is in most cases. The question however is – are the people spreading rumors legally responsible for the actions of others who simply believe in such rumors and then go do their thing? The answer is no, and I have previously written about why that is so. Also read the comments that follow. It was a very interesting debate, though it ended in a bit of a stalemate.
Every legal restriction on free speech potentially has a ‘chilling effect’ on speech – people will refrain from speaking the truth, or saying anything at all, lest they face law suits. The media can be absolutely pathetic at times. But that does not give the government the right to regulate it – through diktats, though laws curtailing free speech, or though any other means. And since the media is not a special creature, regardless of what some journalists tend to think, what applies to them also applies to every other person.