Outrage over PCI backing curbs on Kashmir media

Kashmir Times. Dated: 8/25/2019 11:57:04 AM

NEW DELHI, Aug 24 (Agencies) Journalists in the capital were aghast on finding the Press Council of India (PCI) filing an affidavit in the Supreme Court endorsing in "national interest" the stern curbs imposed on the media of Jammu and Kashmir instead of backing an editor's petition to lift the communication restrictions.
PCI MOVE
The Press Council of India (PCI) has sought permission from the Supreme Court to intervene in a petition filed by Kashmir Times executive editor Anuradha Bhasin which demands an end to communications restrictions in Jammu and Kashmir.
But though the statutory object of the country’s media watchdog is to “preserve the freedom of the press”, the PCI petition describes the ban on communication and free movement, which many local journalists say has severely affected the functioning of the press in J&K, as being “in the interest of the integrity and sovereignty of the nation”.
The council has said it would like to present its views before the court to assist it in deciding Bhasin’s petition “justly in the interest of the freedom of the press as well as in the national interest”.
The council’s application notes that there is no mention of the “abrogation of most contentious provision of the constitution” (sic) in Bhasin’s petition, “which has caused the restrictions on communication and other facilities in the interest of the integrity and sovereignty of the nation”.
Bhasin had filed a writ petition in the apex court on August 10 challenging curbs on media freedom in the state and sought directions to immediately relax all restrictions on mobile, internet and landline services. The petition also asked for a relaxation of all restrictions on the freedom of movement of journalists and media personnel in Kashmir and some districts of Jammu in order to enable them to practice their profession. Bhasin had stated that the communications blockade and strict restrictions on movement had, “resulted in a virtual blackout, and media reporting and publishing (was) grievously impacted”.
To establish its locus standi as an intervenor, the council petition described the PCI’s main functions under section 13 of the Press Council Act, 1978 in the application. It specifically highlights its mandate to (i) maintain high standards of public taste, (ii) foster “a due sense of both the rights and responsibilities of citizenship” on part of newspapers, news agencies and journalists and (iii) to “keep under review any development likely to restrict the supply and dissemination of news of public interest and importance”.
To support its case, the application also pointed to the Norms of Journalistic Conduct framed by the council for self-regulation in reporting in the matter of “paramount national, social or individual interests” which calls for due restraint and caution in presenting any news, comment or information that might jeopardise, endanger or harm these paramount interests.

PA PROTEST

Several journalist bodies including Press Association a national body of PIB accredited journalist severely opposed move of Press Council of India Chairman`s unilateral move to side with government on media and communication black out in Jammu and Kashmir. Delhi Union of Journalist (DUJ) also cautioned the Press council and advised to keep in mind its natal role under the constitution of India to ensure freedom of press.

Shockingly, the day-long PCI meeting held on August 22 was not even briefed about the affidavit reportedly cleared by Justice (retired) Chandramouli Kumar Prasad, a former judge of the Supreme Court, having the second term as the council's chairman.

A meeting of the journalists is convened here on Tuesday to discuss the PCI's conduct in suppressing the press freedom instead of helping the hapless editor of a Srinagar daily knocking at the Apex Court doors for justice.

The Press Association, a body of the accredited journalists created by Parliament, on Saturday issued a statement taking a serious view of the PCI chairman moving the Apex Court to intervene in the petition filed by Kashmir Times executive editor Anuradha Bhasin seeking relaxation in curbs on the movement of journalists in Kashmir, creating hurdles in the way of the smooth functioning of media.

When confronted by journalists, the PCI's newly re-elected President Jaishankar Gupta and General Secretary C K Nayak said they are both members of the PCI but the full council meeting held for the whole day on August 22 was not taken into confidence on the affidavit already filed, what to say of mentioning it.

They said a resolution moved in the meeting by the members on the prevailing media situation in J&K was rather not taken up for consideration nor were the opinions of the members sought. Instead, the Council constituted a committee to look into the media situation in J&K.

The two Press Association leaders said the twin objective of the PCI is to maintain freedom of the press and improve standard of journalism, but it rather took no cognizance of the resolution that since August 5 no newspaper could be published nor could any agency function in J&K.

Anuradha Bhasin, editor of the Kashmir Times, had filed a writ petition in the apex court on August 10, challenging curbs on media freedom in the state and sought directions to immediately relax all restrictions on mobile, internet and landline services.

JOURNALISTS’ JOINT STATEMENT
Several journalists and media organisations, in a separate statement, also expressed grave concern at the decision of the Press Council of India to intervene in the petition filed by Kashmir Times Executive Editor Anuradha Bhasin. The Press Council of India’s petition has sought to be heard in the matter and does not unequivocally stand to protect press freedom, the statement said.
“It conflates the issues raised by the Petition on the ‘rights of the media/journalists for free and fair reporting on the one hand and national interest of integrity and sovereignty on the other’ and seeks to assist the Court on the issue of the ‘freedom of the Press as well as in the national interest’,” the statement added.
“The Press Council of India’s wording of the intervention petition in this manner is deplorable, completely indefensible and strikes a severe blow against the struggle of journalists from Kashmir to be able to report freely on the effect of the abrogation of Art 370 on August 5, 2019. Since then, the entire region has been under the most extraordinary clampdown of communication, newspapers have not been printed or distributed freely and journalists have not been able to gather news, much less disseminate it. Their movements have been hampered and their mobility severely restricted,” it further said.
The joint statement pointed out that “Internet shutdown has been total and only select government officers have had recourse to landlines or private satellite phones. Ordinary citizens have not been able to get any information about the plight of their family members, even of the death of loved ones! Medical help for citizens have been severely hampered and students are unable to get information on course and job applications. The government continues to claim that Kashmir is peaceful and calm. Yet, independent media organisations have recorded evidence of protests and expressions of anger by citizens but in the face of the ban on the Internet, the very dissemination of this news is threatened.”
There has been a global outcry against this absolute clampdown. Journalists’ organisations in India, have demanded that communication be restored. The Editors Guild of India has termed the lockdown in communication as ‘draconian for the vibrant local media that are the first eyes and ears on the ground,’ the journalists reminded.
“In this situation, it is the responsibility of an august, statutory body like the Press Council of India to step forward and fulfill its duty to media freedom. In 1966, the Press Council was set up as a statutory body under an act of Parliament with ‘the purpose of preserving the freedom of the Press and of maintaining and improving the standards of newspapers and news agencies in India’. It is mandated with acting as a self-regulatory body set up as ‘a watchdog of the press, for the press and by the press’. It is expected to adjudicate on issues of ethics and on freedom of the press,” the statement further added.
The statement also pointed out that the current Chairperson of the Press Council of India, Justice C K Prasad, said in an address on the occasion of the Silver Jubilee Programme of the National Human Rights Commission of India held on September 5, 2018 at IIMC, Delhi, that the ‘media is the eyes and ears of any democratic society and its existence is vital to the smooth functioning of democracy. It guards the public interest and acts as voice of the voiceless’.
It further averred that “the present intervention by the Press Council of India is in sharp contrast to its report released on 9 October, 2017 after its visit to J&K, where it states, ‘The committee is really concerned about the stoppage of internet and mobile services in the State. In this age, no media can work without these supports. The policy of curbs on internet and mobile services has to be reviewed urgently’. The Press Council had also recommended increase in DAVP and government advertisements to increase sustainability of newspapers, and stated that journalists, too, are doing public service during any coverage and, therefore, their accreditation or Press Cards should be duly honoured during curfew or restrictions.”
“By this intervention in the petition filed by Anuradha Bhasin, it appears that the Press Council of India is abrogating its Constitutional responsibility towards standing firmly and fearlessly for the freedom of the press and the right of the media to ‘act as the voice of the voiceless’. It flies in the face of the role of the Press Council of India as a statutory body to safeguard the rights of the media to fulfill its responsibility freely, without fear or favour. That is in the true national interest, irrespective of the interests of the government of the day,” the statement said.
The journalists urged the Press Council of India to immediately intervene in favour of the petition filed by Anuradha Bhasin to rescind the ban on communication forthwith. Anything short of this will be a travesty to media freedom.
The signatories to the statement include senior journalists Ajit Pillai, Ammu Joseph, Anjali Modi, Anirudh Bahl, Jyoti Punwani, S.N. Sinha, former member, Press Council and Convenor of PCI report on Media of J&K, 2017, Luxmi Murthy, Priya Ramani, Samar Halarnkar and scores of others.
PCI’s ‘ARBITRARY MOVE’
According to a report in thewire.in, two current members of the PCI expressed shock at the stand the body is taking. They said that a meeting of the council had in fact been held on Thursday where a proposal to send a fact-finding team to J&K to assess the situation in the interest of upholding press freedom was mooted. The members confirmed that no mention was made of the Supreme Court petition in the meeting and they were not even aware that such an intervention was being sought, according to the report.
One member of the council is quoted to have said that he had brought to PCI chairman Justice C.K. Prasad’s notice that even news agencies are not able to file their stories freely from Srinagar, while another drew his attention to the fact that the websites of J&K based newspapers had not been updated for two weeks.
“The wording of this petition is so dangerous. Though the rules say that the chairman has to get the council’s endorsement for any decision he takes in between meetings, he did not even inform the council about the fact that the PCI is intervening in Anuradha Bhasin’s case,” one council member said, according to The Wire report.
“If the Press Council – set up by an act of parliament i.e. in the name of the people – sees a free and open media as a threat to the nation’s ‘sovereignty’, and if it believes readers and viewers can and ought to be kept in the dark in special situations, it is a sad day for Indian democracy, although it would not surprise anybody that things have come to such a pass,” the report quoted Krishna Prasad, former editor of Outlook magazine. Prasad is a former member of the council.
“One of the two founding objectives of the Press Council was to preserve the freedom of the press ‘unfettered and unhindered by any authority’. Any action to the contrary that suggests subservience to any authority or situation would be a shameful abdication of its responsibilities,” he said.
NAJ, DUJ caution against watch dogs becoming lap dogs of government
The National Alliance of Journalists (NAJ) and the Delhi Union of Journalists(DUJ), join the Press Association members, President Jaishanker Gupta and general secretary C.K.Naik and some other bodies against the unilateral decision of the Chairman of Press Council of India, Justice C.K.Prasad filing a writ petition in the Supreme Court seeking permission to intervene in a writ filed by Kashmir Times executive editor Anuradha Bhasin. Ms.Bhasin ‘s petition seeks an end on restrictions on communication amenities in Jammu & Kashmir which was creating hurdles in the way of the smooth functioning of media.
While condemning the Press Council Chairman ‘of tomtoming’ the government’s interest and acting as its B team, we call for action by unions concerned.
In a statement today, the National Alliance of Journalists (NAJ) and DUJ President, S K Pande and after consultation with DUJ general secretary Sujata Madhok, has called for the widest possible unity to ensure Watch Dogs do not become Lap Dogs of the government and other international interests with their own agenda of balkanization of the country .

 

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