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In Karnataka, 16 journalists arrested in 1 year, most for blackmail & false propaganda

Many journalists have been booked for extortion, blackmail & false propaganda, and there’s a growing sense that the rot starts at the top of the Kannada media.

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Bengaluru: In the last few months, Karnataka has seen a spate of arrests of journalists, most of whom have been booked under cases of extortion, blackmail and false propaganda. At least 16 journalists have been arrested in one year.

Noticing the rise in such cases, Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy has decided to shift the government’s media centre from within the Vidhan Soudha (Karnataka assembly) premises to the office of the Department of Information and Publicity, also called Vartha Soudha.

The most recent case happened on 5 May, when the Central Crime Branch police arrested Hemanth Kammar, managing director of the defunct channel Focus TV, on charges of extortion. Kammar allegedly tried to blackmail Arvind Limbavali, the BJP MLA from Mahadevapura, with fake studio and video clips, and demanded Rs 50 lakh in exchange for his silence.

Limbavali’s aide Girish, who filed the complaint, alleged that Kammar had created fake social media accounts on Facebook and WhatsApp to post the audio clips.

“We are still investigating this case. He may have cheated many others, we are still finding crucial links,” S. Girish, Deputy Commisioner of Police (Crime) told ThePrint.

On 24 April, the Nelamangala police booked another former TV journalist, Kiran Shanbhag, who worked with renowned Kannada news channel TV9. Shanbhag was arrested for trying to extort Rs 25 lakh from a Nelamangala based doctor who ran an Ayurvedic college and hospital.

Shanbag and his associate Jagannath Gowda allegedly approached the doctor claiming he had some objectionable content that could defame him and force him to lose his medical licence. The doctor paid Shanbag Rs 25 lakh, but the accused called on him again a few days later, seeking money for medical treatment of press club members. The doctor approached the police and filed a complaint.

‘Fake’ letter to Sonia Gandhi

On 27 April, another Bengaluru based journalist, S.A. Hemanth Kumar was arrested for allegedly circulating a ‘fake’ letter purportedly written in 2017 by current Karnataka Home minister M.B. Patil to the then-Congress president Sonia Gandhi, explaining his stand on the Lingayat issue and how he would like to push for the cause for a ‘separate religion’ tag for the community. This had also been a major issue during the 2018 assembly elections.

Cyber cell inspector general Hemant Nimbalkar said Kumar’s arrest was based on credible information and evidence corroborated by the oral statement of another accused.

Patil termed the letter ‘fake’ and said it was a conspiracy by his rivals to defame him. Meanwhile, the BJP, which had tweeted the letter, condemned Kumar’s arrest and termed it a conspiracy. Kumar was later released on bail.

On 27 March, the Vijayapura police arrested journalists for trying to extort money from a doctor who was allegedly carrying out sex determination tests.

The journalists in question included Prasanna Deshpande, district correspondent of the Kannada news channel Suvarna News, his cameraman Sangamesh Kambar, and Ravi Bisanalara of Kannada weekly Sangrama.

The Vijayapura police said the trio tried to manufacture a video ‘exposing’ the doctor, and asked him to pay up Rs 50 lakh, later reducing their demand to Rs 10 lakh. The accused also tried to create a bribery scene by forcing the doctor to stuff his pockets with Rs 1 lakh.

Suvarna News’ editor, Ajit Hanumakkanavar, told ThePrint: “We have zero tolerance for corruption. As soon as we got to know about the case, we dismissed them.”

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‘Blackmailing’ Padma winner

Another journalist working with Kannada news channel Public TV, Hemanth Kashyap, was arrested by the Sadashivanagar police station in Bengaluru, where he was caught on CCTV allegedly blackmailing a well-known doctor and Padma Shri awardee Dr Raman Rao.

Kashyap and another journalist working with Samaya TV allegedly possessed a video clip which is said to have exposed an alleged illicit affair. Kashyap threatened to release the clip if the doctor did not pay Rs 50 lakh, and had visited the doctor’s clinic on multiple occasions and collected money.

Public TV channel head H.R. Ranganath said in a video message: “Our stand is clear. Such kind of criminals will not be tolerated and neither will they be safeguarded or set free.”

Kashyap was sent to judicial custody and has now been released on bail.

Past cases

In March 2018, Postcard News founder Mahesh Vikram Hegde had been booked for peddling fake news when he alleged that a Jain monk had been attacked by a Muslim youth and sustained severe injuries.

He was released on bail, only to be booked again for another inflammatory tweet about Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front chief Yasin Malik being arrested, which turned out to be a year old.

Hegde was again detained after he posted a report about the fake letter by M.B. Patil to Sonia Gandhi on the Lingayat issue — he was let off after the police did not find any direct evidence against him.

Other journalism professionals who’ve been arrested in the past include Lakshmiprasad Vajpayee, CEO of news channel Janasri, owned by mining baron and BJP leader Janardhana Reddy. Vajpayee had allegedly blackmailed and threatened a businessman for Rs 10 crore.

When former Karnataka Lokayukta Justice Bhaskar Rao’s son Ashwin was arrested on charges of extortion, two journalists were booked along with him. The police said the accused had threatened a Bengaluru city corporation engineer to cough up Rs 1 crore to avoid Lokayukta raids on him.

‘Rot begins at the top’

Krishna Prasad, former editor of Outlook magazine who belongs to Karnataka, said the rot in Kannada journalism begins at the top. “We have a leadership problem, an ethical problem, a newsroom problem. We have corrupt practices in institutions such as news channels and papers. So many of them are involved in borderline criminal work.”

Santosh Hegde, former Lokayukta of Karnataka, disagreed.

“To change the society, we should not blame individuals but the society that thrives on money and power. In the last decade, things have changed in the media. I am not surprised about allegations of blackmail because the media is only the fourth pillar of society, and consists of people from society for whom money wields power,” Hegde said.

“There are a few rotten apples who are spoiling the entire basket. But I will not say the entire media is tainted.”

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  1. What can be expected from crony capitalist people. All the media houses are under the thumb of certain people . Kumarswamys kasthiri, modi, republick and times now, rahuls ndtv and all other news channels have lost credibility. So people of this country if u don’t start digging about peoples back ground they start screwing from ur background. Please do not vote to any of this idiots. Please start do not exercise until ur problem is resolved.

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