While the withdrawal of the controversial order has been welcomed, journalists have noted with concern the tendency to overawe the media by interfering with their professional duties.
ON October 4, a controversial order issued by the Superintendent of Police (‘SP’) of Bilaspur, Himachal Pradesh, requiring the need to provide character certificates to all press correspondents wanting to cover the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Bilaspur, was withdrawn after an eruption of protests from journalists.
The order, dated September 29, issued by the Criminal Investigation Department of Bilaspur to the District Public Relation Officer, required to provide a list of all press correspondents, photographers, videographers, a team of Doordarshan Kendra and All India Radio with a certificate of character verification, was revoked a day before the scheduled visit of the PM, by the Director General of the Police, Sanjay Kundu.
Kundu tweeted that the letter written by the Bilaspur SP stands withdrawn, and regretted any inconvenience caused.
Notably, no such order was issued when the PM was to visit Mandi, Himachal Pradesh on September 24. The visit was later cancelled due to bad weather conditions.
In a press release issued on October 4, the Delhi Union of Journalists (‘DUJ’), one of the oldest bodies of journalists in the National Capital Territory of Delhi, condemned the appalling order and welcomed the last-minute move of the state government to withdraw the ill-conceived order.
In a joint statement, DUJ’s President S.K Pande and General Secretary Sujata Madhok noted that the “diktat was itself ominous; a colourable exercise of power meant to browbeat the press”’ The character certificate edict seems absurd; a moral rearmament type move by an overzealous district administration, the DUJ said.
DUJ noted that excessive surveillance of journalists is making their jobs difficult to perform. “It smacks of a dangerous tendency to muzzle the press,” the joint statement further noted.
The statement acknowledges that there is a deep-root suspicion of journalists and there have been increasing moves to curb their access to government offices, and ministries. “… [E]ven Parliament is indeed becoming a hallmark of their administration…,” DUJ said.
The statement added that only a favoured few are granted access, which makes the governance less transparent. This militates against the democratic spirit of the Constitution and smacks of a dangerous situation akin to an undeclared Emergency, the signs of which are already visible, it noted.