AP Govt Order: Govt Secys Can Now Sue Media Houses For Fake News
The move by the AP Govt evoked protest from journalists’ unions, civil society organisations and opposition parties.
The Andhra Pradesh government on 31 October issued an order, authorising bureaucrats to sue media houses for 'defamatory, baseless and false' reports.
Two weeks after the state cabinet took the controversial decision, the government officially issued orders empowering secretaries of the respective departments to sue media houses, ignoring the flak it drew from the journalist fraternity and other quarters.
Leader of Opposition and Telugu Desam Party (TDP) president N Chandrababu Naidu reacted strongly to the release of the GO and called it draconian.
The Government Order (GO) issued by T Vijay Kumar Reddy, ex-officio secretary to the government, Information and Public Relations Department reads: “The government hereby accords permission to delegate powers to the secretaries of respective departments to issue rejoinders, file complaints and lodge appropriate cases, if need be, through public prosecutors against defamatory news items published/telecast/posted in print/electronic/social media pertaining to their respective departments after following due process of law.”
Opposition Calls Govt Order Draconian
Leader of Opposition and Telugu Desam Party (TDP) President N Chandrababu Naidu called the order draconian. Naidu said this would curb freedom of expression, and is meant to stifle people's voice on social media.
The move also evoked protest from journalists’ unions, civil society organisations and opposition parties.
The former chief minister said that the right to question, criticise and showcase the failures of a government is fundamental to democracy.
"Prodded by the YSRC Party, the police will now be able to foist false cases to harass media institutions & people who are showcasing the many failures of the Govt. If necessary, we will take the fight to the streets until this oppressive GO is cancelled," tweeted Naidu.
Govt Defends Their Move
The ruling party clarified that it has only decentralised the powers hitherto vested with the Commissioner of Information and Public Relations.
The government also argued that filing of cases will be the last resort.
It said that the process will start with issuing a rejoinder, ensuring that the correction is given the same prominence as the wrongly published/televised news was given, including the placement/time slot and has full clarity besides being properly sourced.
The clarification, however, failed to allay apprehensions that the powers will be misused to target media houses, especially those critical of the government or the ruling party.
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