[dropcap]T[/dropcap]HE Press Council of India (PCI)—a media watchdog body tasked with protecting freedom of press—has sparked outrage after it voluntarily sought permission from the Supreme Court to intervene in a petition filed by Kashmir Times executive editor Anuradha Bhasin that seeks an end to communications restrictions in Jammu and Kashmir.
While PCI move is drawing severe criticism from different quarters, some current members of its executive body have also reportedly been left shocked.
The PCI plea has underscored that the ban on communication and free movement, which has severely affected the functioning of the local journalists in Jammu and Kashmir, is “in the interest of the integrity and sovereignty of the nation”.
It has offered to assist the court in deciding Anuradha Bhasin’s petition “justly in the interest of the freedom of the press as well as in the national interest”.
It contended 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”.
Previously, the executive editor of Kashmir Times had filed a petition in the top court seeking the Supreme Court’s intervention to lift the clampdown on the Kashmir Valley’s media ever since state’s special status was abrogated and it was divided into two Union Territories.
“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,” Krishna Prasad, former editor of Outlook magazine told The Wire. “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.”
“Another institution bends over backwards,” said senior journalist, political commentator and author Paranjoy Guha Thakurta.
Here’s how Twitter is reacting to the application moved by Press Council of India, statutorily tasked with ensuring freedom of the press:
This, when the Press Council of India's main function is to help newspapers and news agencies to maintain their independence! pic.twitter.com/dhujKylpGL
— Anita Joshua (@anitajoshua) August 24, 2019
How bad are things for press freedom in India right now? This bad: The Press Council of India is opposing a petition from the editor of Kashmir Times to end the shutdown of media in Jammu & Kashmir. https://t.co/RDKA8BNyQc
— Nicholas Dawes (@NicDawes) August 23, 2019
Unbelievable!! Press Council of India plans to go to #SupremeCourt and justify suspension of Internet & virtual media lockdown in #Kashmir in ‘national interest’!What a cop out! PCI should be demanding THE OPPOSITE!You surrender freedom of the press, then what’s left?! @TheQuint
— Rohit Khanna (@Rohit_K69) August 23, 2019
We always knew it was toothless, now the Press Council of India has proved it is brainless and gutless as well. https://t.co/rDA0aQpkLr
— ranjona banerji (@ranjona) August 23, 2019
To establish its locus-standi in the case, PCI in its application has 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 national interest.
Earlier, the Editors Guild of India had issued a statement, expressing its concerns over the shutdown of communications in Jammu and Kashmir.
It also expressed its appreciation for and solidarity with all journalists reporting from the ground despite unprecedented challenges and requested the government to ensure their safety and freedom of movement.
“Media transparency has and always should be India’s strength, not fear.”