In a letter written to the Press Information Bureau (PIB), the Editors Guild of India (EGI) has demanded the withdrawal of the newly released Central Media Accreditation Guidelines 2022, labelling them "draconian" and "arbitrary".
The new guidelines released by the PIB relate to the restrictions placed on providing journalists access to report from within the government headquarters.
The letter states that the guidelines "fail to offer clarity and streamlining, and instead impose unilateral, onerous and arbitrary conditions upon journalists," adding that journalists would come under the thumb of the police as a result.
According to the new guidelines released by the PIB on 7 February, the accreditation of any journalist working in India can be suspended or withdrawn if the individual:
"Acts in a manner that 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 of an offence."
It also adds that a journalist's accreditation could be revoked if he/she were charged with a serious cognisable offence.
The letter by the EGI, addressed to the PIB's Principal Director General Jaideep Bhatnagar, labels the guidelines as "arbitrary", giving the following reasons for such a label:
"(i) it does not provide for an adjudicating authority to decide on suspension, (ii) lacks procedural safeguards of right of hearing, recording of reasons, provision of appeal, etc.; and (iii) is a disproportionate and uncalled for punishment for actions that already have existing remedies in law.”
The letter states that the guidelines impair the exercise of fundamental rights for journalists, adding that they have not provided any remedy or right of appeal for journalists whose accreditation has been rejected.
"It is bizarre that merely being charged has been mentioned as a ground for cancellation. The other grounds for cancellations are manifestly vague and subjective."
It also adds that "Most surprisingly, 'defamation' has been included as a ground for cancellation".
The new provision, which was not a part of the policy issued in 2013, was added under the ‘General Terms of Accreditation’ section.
It also states that that “An accredited media person shall not use the words ‘Accredited to the Government of India’ on public/social media profile, visiting cards, letter heads or any other form or any published work.”
According to the PIB's website, 1,681 correspondents and 476 photographers are currently accredited by the government of India.