THE National Alliance of Journalists [NAJ] and the Delhi Union of Journalists [DUJ] released a joint press release earlier today in which they expressed “deep concern” about the new guidelines for central press accreditation, calling it a reflection of “rapidly increasing curbs on the media, with each new government move designed to restrict free reportage and free speech.”
“They are ominous and also show signs of a colourable exercise of power, designed to browbeat journalists on what to report, besides being discriminatory against some national and premier organizations of journalists of long standing, which were not even consulted or included in the new committee”, the statement added.
The statement drew attention to the provision of the that accreditation can be withdrawn if a journalist “acts in a manner which is prejudicial to the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence”. This is an omnibus clause that can be readily misused by the bureaucracy to punish media persons who do not toe the official line on any issue, the NAJ and DUJ warn, especially in light of several prominent journalists being charged under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and the sedition provision of the Indian Penal Code merely for tweets. Since slapping such charges is easy for the authorities but they seldom stand up in court, the statement recommends that until any such charges are proved, journalists must be allowed to carry on their professional work without hindrance.
According to the statement, the clauses requiring return of accreditation cards within a week of leaving or being asked to leave a news organization sets too short a period for the same. The time allowed to join another organization or to change the category under which accreditation was originally applied for should be increased, it suggests.
It also suggests that since the age of retirement is 58 years, all those who cross this age should be eligible for accreditation as veteran journalists. The policy currently recognizes only those above 65 years as eligible for this category.
The NAJ and DUJ welcomes the widening of the eligibility criteria to include digital news media, but express regret at their limited quota limited. They urge that the number of accreditations allotted to them be increased in light of the rapid growth of digital news media.
The statement concludes with agreeing with the Press Club of India and other journalists’ bodies that “the consultative process associated with changes or amendments to the accreditation process had been done away with.” Some of the changes, it warns, constitute “a very discriminatory approach in a virtual undeclared Emergency times against independent critical thinking.”