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Members of PCI & Independent Journalists Oppose PCI's Intervention In Petition For Media Freedom In J&K

AKSHITA SAXENA
26 Aug 2019 11:57 AM GMT
Members of PCI & Independent Journalists Oppose PCIs Intervention In Petition For Media Freedom In J&K
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A group of members of the Press Council of India have said that its Chairman did not consult them before moving an intervention application in the petition filed by Kashmir Times Executive Editor, Anuradha Bhasin, and have criticized the move. A joint statement was also issued by some seventy journalists and press agencies raising objections against the said intervention. The PCI has...

A group of members of the Press Council of India have said that its Chairman did not consult them before moving an intervention application in the petition filed by Kashmir Times Executive Editor, Anuradha Bhasin, and have criticized the move. A joint statement was also issued by some seventy journalists and press agencies raising objections against the said intervention.

The PCI has sought intervention as a respondent party in the petition filed by Ms. Bhasin, who has challenged the curbs on media freedom that were imposed in Kashmir in the wake of abrogation of the state's special status.

Statements of members of PCI

Certain prominent members of the PCI have claimed that the intervention application expresses views that may be personal to the Chairman, retired Supreme Court Judge, Justice C. K. Prasad, but it does not reflect views of the Council as a whole. "It was not in the agenda papers, and the Chairman did not even inform informally…rules state that any such decision should have been informed to the Council", a member was reported saying. They added that the Council last met on August 22 and the Chairman should've taken an endorsement that day or asked for voting on this issue.

The President of the Press Association, Jaishankar Gupta said that the decision of the Chairman was arbitrary and the PCI could not be left to become a "tool of the government". He, along with General Secretary of the Association, C. K. Nayak, said that they were surprised that "the Council was not taken into confidence in such a grave matter" and that the Association had taken a serious view of the Chairman's "unilateral action".

Statement of Journalists and Press Agencies

The concerned journalists urged the Council to intervene in the 'favour' of the petition and advocate withdrawal of communication restrictions.

"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", the statement said.

They said that the PCI was established to ensure freedom of the Press and to safeguard the rights of the media to fulfill its responsibility freely, without fear or favour. However, the Council had failed to recognize that the 'extraordinary clampdown of communication' in the entire region rendered the press helpless in as much as newspapers were not printed or distributed freely and journalists in the valley were unable to gather news, much less disseminate it. "Their movements have been hampered and their mobility severely restricted", they said.

It was also pointed out that access to medical help in the valley was affected and many students were unable to get information on course and job applications due to communication shut down. "The government continues to claim that Kashmir is peaceful and calm. Yet, independent media organizations 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", they added.

They also mentioned that on 9 October, 2017, after its visit to J&K, the Council had reported "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… Journalists, too, are doing public service during any coverage and, therefore, their accreditation or Press Cards should be duly honoured during curfew or restrictions."

However, the intervention application was in absolute contrast to the above position of the Council and it "Instead, 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 journalists continued.

The statement lastly said that the intervention petition was contrary to the Council's "Constitutional responsibility" towards freedom of the press and the right of the media to 'act as the voice of the voiceless' and the Council should immediately alter its stand.

Full Text Of Statement by concerned media persons on the Press Council's intervention application in the petition filed by Ms Anuradha Bhasin

We, the undersigned individual journalists and media organisations, express our 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 seek to protect press freedom.

Instead, 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 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.

The 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.'

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 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'.

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, "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 Ms 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.

We urge the Press Council of India to immediately intervene in favour of the petition filed by Ms Bhasin to rescind the ban on communication forthwith. Anything short of this will be a travesty of media freedom.

Sd/-

Ajith Pillai, Journalist, Delhi

Akhileshwari Ramagoud

Ammu Joseph, Bangalore

Aniruddha Bahl

Anjali Mody, New Delhi

Anjuman Ara Begum, Guwahati

Anumeha Yadav, Delhi

Anuradha Sharma, Siliguri (Darjeeling)

Akshita Nagpal

Aunohita Mojumdar, Editor, Himal Southasian

Avantika Mehta, New Delhi

Binita Parikh Ahmedabad

C.G. Manjula, Bangalore

Chitra Ahanthem, Imphal

Chitrangada Chaudhary, Delhi

Deepanjana Pal

Dhanya Rajendran, Bangalore

Free Speech Collective

Geeta Seshu, Mumbai

Geetartha Pathak. Vice President, Indian Journalists Union, Guwahati and former member,Press Council of India

Gita Aravamudan, Bangalore

Haima Deshpande, Thane

Iftikhar Gilani

Jairaj Singh

Jayaditya Gupta

Jyoti Punwani, Journalist, Mumbai

Kala Kanthan, Bangalore

Kalpana Sharma, Mumbai

Kamayani Mahabal, Mumbai

Laxmi Murthy, Bangalore

Linda Chhakchhuak, Independent Journalist, Shillong

M.D Riti, Bangalore

Mahesh Rajput, Journalist, Chandigarh

Malini Subramaniam, Hyderabad

Manisha Pande

Meena Menon, Journalist, Mumbai

Melanie P Kumar, Bangalore

MJ Pandey, Journalist, Mumbai

Natasha Badhwar

Neha Dixit, Delhi

Neeta Kolhatkar, Mumbai

Network of Women in Media, India (NWMI)

Neelam Jena, Delhi

Niloufer Venkatraman

Nilanjana Bhowmick Independent Journalist New Delhi

Nupur Basu, Bengaluru

Padma Priya, Hyderabad

Padmaja Shaw, Hyderabad

Padmalatha Ravi, Bangalore

Padma Prakash, Mumbai

Pamela Philipose, Journalist, Delhi

Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, former member, Press Council of India

Parth MN, Mumbai

Paroma Mukherjee

Poornima Joshi, Political Editor, Hindu Businessline

Prachi Pinglay, Bangalore

Prema Viswanathan, Bangalore

Preethi Nagaraj, Mysuru

Preeti Mehra, Journalist, Delhi

Priya Ramani, Bangalore

Pushpa Achanta, Bangalore

Radhika Ramaseshan, New Delhi

Rajashree Dasgupta, Kolkata

Rehmat Merchant, Bangalore

Rema Nagarajan

Revathi Siva Kumar, Bangalore

Revati Laul, New Delhi

Rituparna Chatterjiee

Rohit Khanna, journalist

Rohini Mohan, Bangalore

Rosamma Thomas, Pune

Sevanti Ninan, New Delhi

S.N. Sinha, former member, Press Council and Convenor of PCI report on Media of J&K, 2017

S.Teresa, Chennai

Sabarinath, Jaipur

Sabita Lahkar, Independent Journalist, Guwahati

Samar Halarnkar

Sameera Khan, Mumbai

Samhita Barooah, Meghalaya

Samrat Chakrabarti

Samrat Choudhury

Sandhya Ravishankar, Chennai

Shahina KK, Thiruvananthapuram

Sharda Ugra, Bangalore

Shobha SV, Independent media professional, Bangalore

Sohini.C, Kolkata

Sonal Kellog

Thingnam Anjulika Samom, Imphal

Tongam Rina, Journalist, Itanagar

UNI Employees Union, Chandigarh

Usha Rai, Delhi

Valay Singh

Venu Arora, New Delhi

Vivek Mukherji, New Delhi

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