The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) Executive Committee meeting in Taiwan on May 12-13 expresses its deep concern over the Indian government’s manoeuvres to control the media and impinge on the right to freedom of expression and access to information, critical to its democracy.
The IFJ takes note of the ongoing efforts of its affiliate, the Indian Journalists Union (IJU), to caution the Government and its Information and Broadcasting Ministry against meddling in the reconstitution of media institutions and undermining their sanctity. In particular, the IJU has spelt out its unease over the reconstitution of the 13th Press Council of India (PCI), mandated to preserve and protect the freedom of Press and the Central Press Accreditation Committee (CPAC), which grants accreditation to representatives of various news media organisations at the headquarters of the Government of India, to free access information.
In the case of the PCI, a statutory body constituted by an Act of Parliament, its outgoing Chairman has chosen to brazenly do away with well-established procedure and interpreted the rules and guidelines perversely impacting the neutrality and credibility of the Council. Worse, the Chairman has shown a tearing hurry to hold meetings of the Council, whose 20 members are yet to be officially notified out of the total membership of 28. The truncated Council has already held three meetings with just four members of of the eight members notified- five MPs and three official nominees- leaving out representatives of the print media organisation. These meetings lacked the quorum of 11 members presence as mandated under the PCI Act, were obviously called to carry out government’s secret agenda and must be viewed as undemocratic and illegitimate.
Likewise, the CPAC has been reconstituted without the representatives of organisations of working journalists, editors of the news media in clear violation of stipulated guidelines and amounted to veiled censorship. While it is to be composed of ‘not more than 25 members’, representing various media unions/organisations, the I&B Ministry in March appointed a committee consisting of hand-picked journalists, ignoring the claims of the media organisations submitted after these were sought. In a letter to the I&B Minister, the representative organisations of the working journalists, editors and managements of the media asked the minister to reconstitute the CPAC with the representatives of the journalists’ organisations, whose claims were invited to keep the committee’s representative character intact.
Given the gravity of the situation, the IJU along with other seven media organisations had written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, reminding him of the critical role played by the fourth estate in strengthening public opinion and enhancing India’s vibrant democracy. They urged upon him to immediately intervene and “restore the credibility and sanctity of the PCI and the CPAC.” However, the media organisations are deeply disappointed at his stoic silence.
In addition, the IJU has protested against the decision of I&B Ministry to appoint a committee consisting largely of government officials and a few organisations to recommend regulatory framework for online media. “It is absurd to think of regulation of the online media in a manner decided by the Minister without prior and meaningful consultation with all the stakeholders,” the IJU felt. At the same time, the IJU has slammed the Government for reconstituting the Journalists Welfare Committee with only handpicked members and demanded that it be reconstituted with representatives of working journalists and editors’ organisations.
The IFJ condemns the procedure adopted for reconstituting these vital institutions/committees as it is clearly arbitrary and gives credence to the growing impression that the Modi government is adopting surreptitious ways to tame the media and throttle the voice of dissent. It demands that all stake holders must be involved in upholding and preserving the freedom of the press and all restrictions on access to information be done away with. IFJ feels that this would go a long way in protecting India’s young democracy and instil confidence among its people and in fact, the global community that the government is committed to press freedom and the recent decline in world press freedom index is only an aberration.
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The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 146 countries