Marathi Daily ‘Loksatta’ censured by Press Council of India for publishing a fake story on the Statue of Unity


Report of Inquiry Committee forwarded to Mumbai Police and State Govt. for legal action

How can such newspapers be expected to guide the society ?

New Delhi – Two years after a leading Marathi Daily ‘Loksatta’ published fake news about the Statue of Unity, the Press Council of India (PCI) has found the newspaper guilty of malice. In an order dated 30th September, the PCI accepted the report of the Inquiry Committee, which was constituted to examine the complaint and has decided to censure the paper.

Activist Sadanand Ghodgerikar had filed a complaint against Loksatta and its Editor-in-Chief Girish Kuber for publishing a false editorial dated 3rd November 2018, about the Statue of Unity. The matter eventually came up before the Inquiry Committee of the Press Council of India on 25th February 2020 this year. While complainant Sadanand Ghodgerikar appeared in person, the respondent Loksatta was represented by Abhijeet Negi and Mahesh.

Loksatta claimed massive
contribution by PSUs for Statue of Unity

In the contentious editorial of 3rd November 2018 in Loksatta by Editor-in-Chief Girish Kuber, he alleged that several Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs) had contributed ‘immensely’ for the construction of the Statue of Unity. The basis of his claim was supposedly a Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report of August 2018.

The editorial claimed, ‘Indian Oil, Oil & Natural Gas Commission (Rs. 900 crore), Bharat Petroleum (Rs. 450 crore), Hindustan Petroleum (Rs. 450 crore), Oil India (Rs. 250 crore), Gas Authority of India (Rs. 250 crore), Power Grid (Rs. 250 crore), Gujarat Mineral Development Corporation, Engineer India (Rs. 125 crore), Petronet India (Rs. 100 crore) and Balmer Lawrie (Rs. 50 crore ), etc. have contributed for the construction of Statue of Unity of Sardar Patel’.

No money should have been
spent by PSUs, Loksatta alleged

Later, in a rejoinder to the Inquiry Committee, Loksatta presented a purported extract of the same CAG report and alleged that not a ‘single Rupee’ ought to have been provided by the PSUs for the construction of the Sardar Patel statue. In its defence, Loksatta stated that the figures presented in the editorial were ‘not disputed’ by any of the PSUs and that no objections were raised even by the Government of India. It further claimed that the complainant Sadanand Ghodgerikar had ‘no personal knowledge’ about the funds contributed by the PSUs and that he has no locus standi in the matter. Loksatta also reiterated that the editorial was published in ‘good faith’ and ‘public interest’ without ‘malice’.

Complainant rubbishes
exaggerated claims of Loksatta

The complainant had rubbished the claims of Loksatta as ‘false’ and ‘concocted’. He disputed the figures published in the editorial and pointed out that the said CAG report was also presented in the Parliament. Sadanand Ghodgerikar emphasised that the contribution of the PSUs were far less than what was alleged by Loksatta in its editorial.

Findings of the Inquiry Committee reveal factual incorrectness of the editorial

The Inquiry Committee of the PCI noted that despite several requests to Loksatta to produce material other than the CAG report, which they took into consideration before publishing the editorial, Loksatta had turned down the request citing confidentiality of sources.

While the Committee upheld the decision to not reveal the name of its sources, it emphasised, “The respondent cannot refuse to place the material, which has formed the basis of the story, particularly when the respondent newspaper in the story itself has disclosed the source and that is the report of the CAG”. The Inquiry Committee found that the claims made in the Loksatta editorial are ‘absolutely incorrect’ and ‘figment of imagination by the newspaper’. It emphasised, “The conduct of the respondent newspaper in publishing such a story and referring to the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India to give the story credence aggravates the misconduct”.

The Inquiry Committee further reprimanded the newspaper and forwarded a copy of the report to the Mumbai Police Commissioner and the Director of Information and Public Relation of the Maharashtra Government for legal action.

“The Press Council on consideration of records of the case and report of the Inquiry Committee accepts the findings and adopts the report of the Committee and decides to censure the respondent newspaper (Loksatta) with above-recommended directions”, the order read.