• Over 90 journalists condemn PCI’s support to the media gag in Kashmir


    August 26, 2019

    The statement was issued by concerned media persons against the Press Council of India's intervention in the petition filed by Kashmir Times Executive Editor Anuradha Bhasin, seeking relaxation in the restrictions put on media houses and journalists in Jammu and Kashmir.

    We, the undersigned individual journalists and media organisations, express our grave concern at the decision of the Press Council of India to intervene in the petition filed by Kashmir Times Executive Editor Anuradha Bhasin. The Press Council of India’s petition has sought to be heard in the matter and does not unequivocally seek to protect press freedom.

    Instead, it  conflates the  issues raised by the Petition on the ‘rights of the media/journalists for free and fair reporting on the one hand and national interest of integrity and sovereignty on the other’ and seeks to assist the Court on the issue of the ‘freedom of the Press as well as in the national interest’.

    The Press Council of India’s wording of the intervention petition in this manner is  deplorable, completely indefensible and strikes a severe blow against the struggle of journalists from Kashmir to be able to report freely on the effect of the abrogation of Art 370 on August 5, 2019. Since then, the entire region has been under the most extraordinary clampdown of communication, newspapers have not been printed or distributed freely and journalists have not been able to gather news, much less disseminate it. Their movements have been hampered and their mobility severely restricted.

    The Internet shutdown has been total and only select government officers have had recourse to landlines or private satellite phones. Ordinary citizens have not been able to get any information about the plight of their family members, even of the death of loved ones! Medical help for citizens have been severely hampered and students are unable to get information on course and job applications.

    The government continues to claim that Kashmir is peaceful and calm. Yet, independent media organisations have recorded evidence of protests and expressions of anger by citizens but in the face of the ban on the Internet, the very dissemination of this news is threatened.
    There has been a global outcry against this absolute clampdown. Journalists’ organisations in India, have demanded that communication be restored. The Editors Guild of India has termed the lockdown in communication as ‘draconian for the vibrant local media that are the first eyes and ears on the ground.’

    In this situation, it is the responsibility of an august, statutory body like the Press Council of India to step forward and fulfill its duty to media freedom. In 1966, the Press Council was set up as a statutory body under an act of Parliament with ‘the purpose of preserving the freedom of the Press and of maintaining and improving the standards of newspapers and news agencies in India’.  It is mandated with acting as a self-regulatory body set up as ‘a watchdog of the press, for the press and by the press’. It is expected to adjudicate on issues of ethics and on freedom of the press.

    The current Chairperson of the Press Council of India, Justice C. K. Prasad, said in an address on the occasion of the Silver Jubilee Programme of the National Human Rights Commission of India held on September 5, 2018 at IIMC, Delhi, that the ‘media is the eyes and ears of any democratic society and its existence is vital to the smooth functioning of democracy. It guards the public interest and acts as voice of the voiceless’.

    The present intervention by the Press Council of India is in sharp contrast to its report released  on 9 October, 2017 after its visit to J&K, where it states, “The committee is really concerned about the stoppage of internet and mobile services in the State. In this age, no media can work without these supports. The policy of curbs on internet and mobile services has to be reviewed urgently.” The Press Council had also recommended increase in DAVP and government advertisements to increase sustainability of newspapers, and stated, “Journalists, too, are doing public service during any coverage and, therefore, their accreditation or Press Cards should be duly honoured during curfew or restrictions.

    By this intervention in the petition filed by Ms Bhasin, it appears that the Press Council of India is abrogating its Constitutional responsibility towards standing firmly and fearlessly for the freedom of the press and the right of the media to ‘act as the voice of the voiceless’. It flies in the face of the role of the Press Council of India as a statutory body to safeguard the rights of the media to fulfill its responsibility freely, without fear or favour.  That is in the true national interest, irrespective of the interests of the government of the day.
    We urge the Press Council of India to immediately intervene in favour of the petition filed by Ms Bhasin to rescind the ban on communication forthwith. Anything short of this will be a travesty of media freedom. "

    Signatories to the statement are:

    1. Ajith Pillai, Journalist, Delhi
    2. Akhileshwari Ramagoud
    3. Ammu Joseph, Bangalore
    4. Aniruddha Bahl
    5. Anjali Mody, New Delhi
    6. Anjuman Ara Begum, Guwahati
    7. Anumeha Yadav, Delhi
    8. Anuradha Sharma, Siliguri (Darjeeling)
    9. Akshita Nagpal
    10. Aunohita Mojumdar, Editor, Himal Southasian
    11. Avantika Mehta, New Delhi
    12. Binita Parikh Ahmedabad 
    13. C.G. Manjula, Bangalore
    14. Chitra Ahanthem, Imphal
    15. Chitrangada Chaudhary, Delhi
    16. Deepanjana Pal
    17. Dhanya Rajendran, Bangalore
    18. Free Speech Collective
    19. Geeta Seshu, Mumbai
    20. Geetartha Pathak. Vice President, Indian Journalists Union, Guwahati and former member, Press Council of India
    21. Gita Aravamudan, Bangalore
    22. Haima Deshpande, Thane
    23. Iftikhar Gilani
    24. Jairaj Singh
    25. Jayaditya Gupta
    26. Jyoti Punwani, Journalist, Mumbai
    27. Kala Kanthan, Bangalore
    28. Kalpana Sharma, Mumbai
    29. Kamayani Mahabal, Mumbai
    30. Laxmi Murthy, Bangalore
    31. Linda Chhakchhuak, Independent Journalist, Shillong
    32. M.D Riti, Bangalore
    33. Mahesh Rajput, Journalist, Chandigarh
    34. Malini Subramaniam, Hyderabad
    35. Manisha Pande
    36. Meena Menon, Journalist, Mumbai
    37. Melanie P Kumar, Bangalore
    38. MJ Pandey, Journalist, Mumbai
    39. Natasha Badhwar
    40. Neha Dixit, Delhi
    41. Neeta Kolhatkar, Mumbai
    42. Network of Women in Media, India (NWMI)
    43. Neelam Jena, Delhi
    44. Niloufer Venkatraman
    45. Nilanjana Bhowmick Independent Journalist New Delhi 
    46. Nupur Basu, Bengaluru
    47. Padma Priya, Hyderabad
    48. Padmaja Shaw, Hyderabad
    49. Padmalatha Ravi, Bangalore
    50. Padma Prakash, Mumbai
    51. Pamela Philipose, Journalist, Delhi
    52. Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, former member, Press Council of India
    53. Parth MN, Mumbai
    54. Paroma Mukherjee
    55. Poornima Joshi, Political Editor, Hindu Businessline
    56. Prachi Pinglay, Bangalore
    57. Prema Viswanathan, Bangalore
    58. Preethi Nagaraj, Mysuru
    59. Preeti Mehra, Journalist, Delhi
    60. Priya Ramani, Bangalore
    61. Pushpa Achanta, Bangalore
    62. Radhika Ramaseshan, New Delhi
    63. Rajashree Dasgupta, Kolkata
    64. Rehmat Merchant, Bangalore
    65. Rema Nagarajan
    66. Revathi Siva Kumar, Bangalore
    67. Revati Laul, New Delhi
    68. Rituparna Chatterjiee
    69. Rohit Khanna, journalist
    70. Rohini Mohan, Bangalore
    71. Rosamma Thomas, Pune
    72. Sevanti Ninan, New Delhi
    73. S.N. Sinha, former member, Press Council and Convenor of PCI report on Media of J&K, 2017
    74. S.Teresa, Chennai
    75. Sabarinath, Jaipur
    76. Sabita Lahkar, Independent Journalist, Guwahati
    77. Samar Halarnkar
    78. Sameera Khan, Mumbai
    79. Samhita Barooah, Meghalaya
    80. Samrat Chakrabarti
    81. Samrat Choudhury
    82. Sandhya Ravishankar, Chennai
    83. Shahina KK, Thiruvananthapuram
    84. Sharda Ugra, Bangalore
    85. Shobha SV, Independent media professional, Bangalore
    86. Sohini.C, Kolkata
    87. Sonal Kellog
    88. Thingnam Anjulika Samom, Imphal
    89. Tongam Rina, Journalist, Itanagar
    90. UNI Employees Union, Chandigarh
    91. Usha Rai, Delhi
    92. Valay Singh
    93. Venu Arora, New Delhi
    94. Vivek Mukherji, New Delhi


    First published in Sabrang India.

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