Will the arrest of Alt-New co-founder proceed to another media trial in the country?

There is no doubt that a need for an organization like Alt News is the need of the hour, but the involvement of controversy has yet again taken it to a stage of media trial, as a precedent. People are divided in their opinion [HM3] with some following the hashtags like #IStandWithZubair and condemning, while other call it a necessary step was taken in order to secure justice.

Published on - 11 July, 2022

3rdJuly, 2022

Damansekhar Saikia

The Delhi High court, on 1.07.2022 (Friday), comprising of Justice Sanjeev Narula, issued notice to Delhi police, on a plea filed by the Alt-News Co-founder and self-proclaimed fact-checker Muhammed Zubair. Zubair was arrested by the cyber unite of Delhi Police on 27.06.2022. On the plea before Justice Narula, the Alt-News Co-founder has challenged the remand order, granted to the police by the trial court. The FIR was registered by Delhi Police Sub-Inspector Arun Kumar against Mohammed Zubair based on a complaint by a man, allegedly who had tagged the Delhi Police on social media. Since the controversial arrest of Zubair, social media has been filled with support for Zubair and condemning his arrest, while some sections of the people in society called it a step that is a necessary action against Zubair. However, this is not the first instance that the Alt-News Co-founder has attracted controversy towards him.

The ongoing debate in the country is about freedom of speech and right to report. Zubair was a news reporter and media journalist by profession. Zubair founded an online website, along with Pratik Sinha, who is also the co-founder, with the name  “Alt-News”. At a point where there is a tendency to fabricate information and spread biased vendetta among society through mass media, Alt-News is a platform to check, verify or debunk some of the important facts, or news for that instance. There has been an upsurge in the number of people, raising their voices against the arrest of Zubair for the reason that he dared to rectify the available data so that it is provided to the masses in a more unbiased manner. Another factor that has appealed to the public regarding the arrest is his involvement in bringing Nupur Sharma’s controversial television debate statement to the public and making it viral over the social media. Nupur Sharma is a lawyer and BJP spokesperson, who is untraceable since the past few days. Sharma also has a number of FIR registered against her.  The reason behind politicizing the recent arrest of Zubair is because he was allegedly involved in provoking the incidents of riot and circulating Sharma’s comments on social media. This seems not to be the case, as the Supreme Court on 1.07.2022 has stated Nupur Sharma of being the sole reason for chaos and anarchy among the citizens and countrymen.

Alt News have been involved in the field of fact checking and the scrutiny, which was handled by Mohammed [HM1] Zubair, who used run the same news capsule. The need for a more enhanced and unbiased media platform is the need of the hour. However, it is unfortunate to see such a platform attracting criticism. The Alt News co-founder is [HM2] known by his twitter handle (@zoo_bear), in which he used to identify his profile as a fact checker and co-founder at Alt News. Zubair played an instrumental role in fact checking news, when there is tendency to rationalize the media houses in terms of one large politically vested ideology. Mr. Mohammed was arrested in the evening of 27.06.22 by the cyber unit of Delhi Police for a twitter post dating back to 24.03.2018. An FIR was registered against Zubair, under section 153A & 295 of Indian Penal Code, 1860Advcoate Vrinda Grover, who is the representative lawyer for the accused Zubair, stated that the petition, which challenges the trial court's June 28 order granting four days of custody of Alt News Co-founder Mohammad Zubair to the Delhi Police. It was listed for hearing on 1.07.2022 before Justice Sanjeev Narula of Delhi High Court. Zubair is a resident of Bangalore and was given notice for a different case, but was arrested for another, stated Pratik Sinha, Founder – Member, Alt News.

Meanwhile, Registrar of Companies, on 22.06.2022 had sent a legal notice to Alt News owner Pravda Media Foundation over complaint of violations of rules. The Registrar of Companies, Ahmedabad said that if Pravda Media fails to respond to the notice within 15 days, appropriate actions will be taken against the company and its directors, who are Pratik Sinha, his mother Nirjhari Sinha and Mohammad Zubair. On the press release, the police stated that the donations made to the Alt News organizations would be probed. In a stage where the nations were witnessing a spread a new age news capsule, the independency of such media outlets are now in question.

The authenticity of the new age media technology and news capsules need to be authorized categorically, in order to stop the spread of fake, fabricated and biased information, that is being circulated in the country, and sometimes such incidents take the platform to a global stage. There is no doubt that a need for an organization like Alt News is the need of the hour, but the involvement of controversy has yet again taken it to a stage of media trial, as a precedent. People are divided in their opinion [HM3] with some following the hashtags like #IStandWithZubair and condemning, while other call it a necessary step was taken in order to secure justice. News capsules are the new age media houses, and censoring them would result in same traditionally fed and controlled news. The role of a fact-checker is of diligence, [HM4] since it has drawn the attention of many when there is biased news all over the internet, leaving print media aside.

It is said that every action or inaction have an equal and opposite reaction. This incident can be traced since the outrageous statement of Nupur Sharma was made viral by Zubair. The inaction against Nupur Sharma, and questionable stand of the freedom of press, has instigated a sect of people radically. It is obvious and general for people to draw political vendetta from such scenario. Another event that followed after was the beheading of a person in Udaipur over social media post supporting Nupur Sharma. The radicalization seems to grow at a pace faster than ever. The arrest of media journalist Mohammed Zubair, [HM5] has received condemnation from a various political leaders like Rahul Gandhi of Congress, Akhilesh Yadav of Samajwadi Party and Darik O’ Brien of the TMC.

There is a need to establish an organized platform, delegating them with the authority to scrutinize such available information or news, as once the broadcasting takes place, there is no chance of rectification or change, but to justify the same[HM6] . There seem to exist a number of the media houses, which seem to be heavily inclined toward a political vendetta along with it an agenda to whitewash the public. Mr. Muhammed’s phone was seized by the police and the laptop pertaining to Alt-News. The organization is an internet-based platform and runs on a website. It can be seen from their personal profile of Zubair that there was a need for financial help and the organization seeks’ economic help from the readers and public as a form of a donation to the organization. There has been an alleged probe by the police into the funding of the organization. It is said that Zubair and his organization Alt-News received funds from not only India but outside of the nation. This being the case, the need for a probe into the alleged funds is more than ever.

Damansekhar Saikia is a student at Amity University, Chattisgarh. The views expressed are of the author. The Philox does not endorse it.

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