The National Alliance of Journalists (NAJ) and Delhi Union of Journalists (DUJ) , jointly view with deep concern the rapidly increasing curbs on the media, with each new government move designed to restrict free reportage and free speech. The newly rewritten guidelines for central press accreditation once again reflect this deplorable tendency.
“They are ominous and also show signs of a colourable exercise of power, designed to browbeat journalists on what to report, the statement added, beside s being discriminatory against some national and premier organizations of journalists of long standing , which were not even consulted or included in the new committee.”, the statement added.
The guidelines include a veiled threat that accreditation can be withdrawn if a journalist “acts in a manner which is prejudicial to the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign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 to an offence”. This is an omnibus clause that can be readily misused by the bureaucracy to punish media persons who do not toe the official line on any issue.
Since several prominent journalists have in recent times been charged under UAPA and sedition laws merely for tweets, this clause sounds ominous. Slapping such charges is easy for the authorities but they seldom stand up in court. Until any charges are proved, journalists must be allowed to carry on their professional work without hindrance.
We also feel that clauses requiring return of accreditation cards within a week of leaving or being asked to leave a news organization is too short a period. The time allowed to join another organization or to change the category under which accreditation was originally applied for should be increased.
Since the age of retirement is 58 years, all those who cross this age should be eligible for accreditation as veteran journalists. The policy currently recognizes only those above 65 years as eligible for this category.
We welcome the widening of the eligibility criteria to include digital news media but regret that the quota for them is so limited. We urge that the number of accreditations allotted to them be increased as this media is growing rapidly.
We also agree with the Press Club of India and other bodies that “the consultative process associated with changes or amendments to the accreditation process had been done away with.”
Some of the changes in our view constitute: “a very discriminatory approach in a virtual undeclared Emergency times against independent critical thinking.”