The Press Council of India (PCI) and the Government were at loggerheads over the issue of the media body's powers after it decided to serve a bailable arrest warrant against Union I and B Ministry Secretary Sunil Arora for failing to appear before it following summons.
Information and Broadcasting Ministry sources said that the PCI has ‘limited powers’ and cannot decide everything unlike the judiciary, which is an independent institution and recognised by the Constitution.
The decision to secure Arora's attendance before the Council at its next scheduled meeting on April 22 was taken at their meeting on April 11 under the Chairmanship of Prasad.
PCI Chairman Justice (retd) C K Prasad said the Council is willing to listen to I and B Ministry's contention in this regard and that the Council was of the ‘prima facie’ view that it does have the powers to issue such a warrant.
The PCI on March 17 had decided to institute a suo motu inquiry into the ‘continued apathy’ of I and B Ministry towards the activities of the Council particularly at its efforts to preserve the freedom of the press and its mandate under the Press Council Act and directed its Secretary to appear before it on April 11.
The PCI through a resolution passed on March 17 decided to summon Arora on April 11 to explain the government's position on powers to the Council, proposals to make it self-sufficient like enhancing the levy fee and enhancing sitting fee of non-official members to Rs 4,000 from the current Rs 1,000. Since Arora did not turn up on April 11, the members present unanimously brought out a resolution that a bailable warrant may be issued and the authorities concerned be informed.
Prasad said that to reduce the Council’s dependency on the government it had proposed increasing the levy fee on newspapers. The levy fee is paid by newspapers depending on their size and circulation to avail themselves of the services of the Council.
I and B Ministry sources said that under the Press Council Act, the Council has been given powers to summon attendance of persons and examine them on oath, only for two purposes - for carrying out its functions and for holding an enquiry.
The proposals of PCI for enhancement of their powers and expansion of their mandate required wide consultations with all the concerned stakeholders before firming up the legislative proposal for amendment in the Press Council Act, 1978. It is also important to note that under Section 25 of Press Council Act, the power to make rules for enhancement of allowance of fees to the members of PCI lies with the Central Government.
The Council has addressed several communications to the I and B Ministry on various issues concerning the functioning of the Council but received no satisfactory response.