Transparent media activity is a lifeblood of democracy. It is through an interactive co-existence between governments and mediapersons that people will realize their right to know in its fullest form.
In this matter Kerala is a step ahead of other states. Most political leaders and public figures here share a democratic character with an in-built willingness to face media representatives on any occasion without any hesitation. And they also do have the ingenuity to get past the media if and when they do not have any response. For that very reason, media do not face any obstacle to seek their opinion on instant happenings. But the recent guidelines issued by Home Secretary Subrata Biswas putting setting rules and curbs interactions by mediamen with chief minister, ministers, and prominent personalities at public places and in the secretariat, strike at the very root of such fine precedents and democratic values. Even a cursory readinf of the circular would tell that it was issued without much application of mind and would put obstacles in media freedom.
Interacting with ministers and prominent individuals, preparing interviews and eliciting their views are also being restricted with the circular of Home Secretary. If it is implemented in its entirety, media representatives will henceforth be able to do all or any of this only with prior approval from Public Relations Department (PRD). Getting responses at public programmes, railway stations and airports are to be restricted as per the circular because they will hinder their free movement. The circular also contains a provision that the various departments of the government should not provide information directly to the media, and that should be done only through the government's PRD machinery.
The said circular is said to have been issued on 15 November following a recommendation by PA Antony Commission that looked into the controversy regarding a telephone trap. The official version is that these guidelines were issued in the interest of security of ministers and other prominent personalities. When the matter turned into a controversy, government circles came out with an explanation that this was a directive issued to PRD officials and there is no restriction as such. They also clarify that no checks were clamped on media at any place so far based on the circular. The circular, full of ambiguities and impratical suggestons, is anti-democratic and can also dim the image of the government. The circular in dispute raises several questions including how prior approval can be obtained from PRD for responses from ministers on events that unfold instantly, and what the definition of prominent personalities is.
Interactdions by the media is founded on the people's right to know facts. And media act as intermediaries for communication between the government and the people. It is a link for the rulers to convey information to the people promptly on the one hand, and for the people to deliver their questions and concerns to the government without let or hinrance on the other. To introduce restrictions by officials between these two sides, under whatever justifications that is done, would not be desirable at all for social security. Conflicts between two pillars of democracy will only lead to self-destruction, and it will never wipe out news as such, as was amply illustrated in the case of conflict between media and lawyers in Kerala.
In this age when social media has gained so much of currency and penetration, what will result from restrictions on the media is that untruths and half-truths will spread rapidly among the people. When the cyber era is also marked by manufacturing of fake news like an industry, the government should in fact be prepared to establish close and transparent relations with the media. In the context of the controversy over the circular, the chief minister's instruction to the Home Secretary to examine whether there were deficiencies in the circular, and to rectify them if necessary, was a timely and wise move. The chief minister should himself take the initiative to withdraw the circular that amounts to officials creating avoidable controversy , and makes room for officials to deny media freedom.