Journalist Tanushree Pandey Credit: Twitter image

Television channel India Today has issued a statement on Friday asking the government to explain how a conversation between one of its journalist covering the case of the murder of the Dalit woman in Hathras, was leaked online.

The media group also questioned why the woman’s family was kept under strict surveillance and also what was the legal basis for recording and leaking the telephonic conversations.

The audio clip which appeared on social media and a pro-government website became the focal point of major political controversy. The audio clip is purported to be of a telephone conversation between Tanushree Pandey (India Today) reporter and Sandeep, the brother of the deceased.

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In the clip, Pandey can be heard saying to Sandeep to provide her a video statement of the victim’s father that he was actually forced to go to the local police station and sign a document that stated that they were “satisfied by the police probe” in the case.

Pandey was referring to the video of the father which was shared by Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi where the father can be heard saying, “We are not satisfied with this,” adding, “My daughter’s case should be probed by the CBI and monitored by a Supreme Court judge. We are under the pressure from officials and confined to our home while the media has also been barred from meeting us.” This was shared in the Congress leader’s Twitter handle.

According to the Bharatiya Janata Party, they claims that the alleged audio showcases how the media is “misreporting” various facts about the case. They added that she was also coercing false statements out of the woman’s family.

Amit Malviya, BJP leader who appeared on India Today’s debate show on Friday evening slammed the news channel stating that the ban to the entry of media was imposed in Hathras due to the channel’s false reporting.

“If the media has been disallowed, the credit goes to your channel and its coverage,” said Malviya on the show adding, “There is an audio of your reporter Tanushree Pandey that has gone viral…your channel has souped out in Hathras and is misreporting. So clearly, the media particularly your group, has not much track record to speak about.”

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According to the BJP leader, who after referring to the autopsy report stated that there was no rape and claimed that the victim’s family filed contradictory statements about her death and hence the case became a matter of investigation.

Not to be taken down, India Today rejected all the allegations and even questioned under what authority were the phones of a journalist and the victim’s family member were being tapped in the first place. In a Tweet the channel wrote, “India Today first asks why was the telephone of our reporter, who was covering the Hathras murder, being tapped? If it was Sandeep’s phone that was being tapped, then the government needs to answer why are the phones of the grieving victim’s family under surveillance. And under what legal provision of law were the phones tapped and call recordings leaked by officials who had access to these recordings.”

Hathras soon turned to a fortress with many policemen guarding the district’s borders and even put up barricades about two kilometres away from the village.

This was to prevent anyone from entering the area- including journalists and politicians. The woman’s family had alleged that their phones were confiscated and their outdoor movements were confined. However, denying all the allegations joint magistrate Prem Prakash on Saturday said that since the STI probe into the village is complete, the restriction on media is also lifted.

However, a recent video where Hathras district Magistrate Parveen Kumar Laxkar issuing a veiled threat to the Dalit victim’s father to soften his stance stating, “media will go, we’ll remain” also went viral on social media yesterday. He can be heard saying in Hindi, “Do not finish your credibility, these media people…some left today and tomorrow more will leave. Only we will be here with you. Ok? It is up to you whether you want to change your statement or not. We can also change.” The father has accused the Adityanath-led dispensation of putting pressure on them.

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Large-scale protests erupted across the country to demand justice for the 19-year-old Dalit woman, who died earlier this week. This is a fortnight after she was gang-raped allegedly, four upper-caste men. Politicians and citizens have severely criticised the high-handedness of the UP police force. Especially after they cremated the woman’s body against the family’s wishes.

Chief Minister Adityanath, amid countrywide outrage over the case, on Wednesday formed a three-member SIT, which was instructed to submit its report by October 14.

On Friday, Adityanath even suspended Hathras Superintendent of Police Vikrant Vir and four other police officers.

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