Is It Ok For Press Council Head to Justify J&K Media Restrictions?

The PCI chairman filed a counter-petition to the one filed by Kashmir Times’ journalist.

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Video Editor: Sandeep Suman

The government once feared the Press Council of India. But the same body is now submitting itself to the government. During the Emergency, the government thought barring media would provoke the PCI and the Council was dissolved. But, what’s going on now?

The body which is supposed to protect the press is the one restricting its freedom. After the abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu & Kashmir, the government suspended telephone, mobile & Internet services. The communication restriction has only been partially revoked. In a situation like this, it has become almost impossible to print newspapers or publish anything online.

Anuradha Bhasin, the executive editor of Kashmir Times filed a petition against the communication blackout in the Supreme Court on 10 August. Press Council of India’s chairman Justice Chandramauli Prasad filed a counter-petition. As per Bhasin’s petition, journalists in Kashmir are finding it difficult to report and publish anything. But PCI’s chairman interfered with Anuradha Bhasin’s petition and showed support for the government. In his counter-petition at the SC, he said,

“According to the Press Council, journalists should exercise self-regulation while reporting on issues of national, social or personal interest. The objective of this petition is to safeguard the rights of independent journalists as well as the national interest. I want to assist the court in the interest of freedom of press and the well-being of the nation.”

Now, it's a different issue what the chairman wishes to convey with words like ’self-regulation’ and ‘nationalism’.

Press Council’s Embarrassment

Amidst this, the PCI is being criticised for restricting press freedom. Former Press Council chairman and many premier newspapers have criticised Justice Chandramauli’s actions in their editorials. Eleven members from the council have criticised Chandramauli’s letter. Senior journalist N Ram called it unconstitutional. In angst, he said that the council could not have stooped any lower. He said,

“What could be worse for the Indian media than the Press Council chairman saying  that communication restriction is for unity and sovereignty of the country?”

Former chairman of PCI, Justice PB Sawant in an interview to The Wire, expressed anger and said,

“I have heard that the members of PCI are against the chairman’s decision. Whether he approached SC in his personal capacity or in the capacity of Chairman of PCI, it is unfortunate for the media.”

What Is the Press Council’s Job?

Formed in 1966, PCI is a half-government and a half-private body and has two major roles:

  • To protect the rights and the freedom of press and journalists
  • To maintain the standards and principles of journalism

After Justice Chandramauli's actions, India’s World Press Freedom Index ranking of 140 (out of 180) will not get any better.

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