New threats to media freedomtext_fields
The Modi government has revised media accreditation guidelines that give it every power to disqualify and media organisation or journalist, closely after the step of revoking the uplink/downlilnk licence of MediaOne Malayalam channel for security reasons that it refused to disclose. According to the new Central Media Accreditation Guidelines 2022, issued by the Union Information & Broadcasting Ministry two days ago, if a journalist is found have acted in a manner found prejudicial to the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, the government will have the power to suspend or withdraw the accreditation. Offences like contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence can also lead to suspension of accreditation. If the media organisation of journalists furnishes erroneous information or documents, that also will be cause for loss of accreditation. The guidelines provide that I&B Ministry will form a Central Media Accreditation Committee under the chairmanship of Principal Director General of Press Information Bureau. The steps including suspension of accreditation will be taken by the committee that will comprise 25 people nominated by the government.
As President of the National Alliance of Journalists SK Pandey and General Secretary of Delhi Union of Journalists Sujata Madhok rightly pointed out in a joint statement, the new clauses are aimed at not only restricting flow of impartial news and free and open expression of opinions, but also muzzling scribes and making them subservient to the interests of the government. It is clear that the move to make the accreditation subject to the whim and fancy of the government will amount to killing media freedom, an essential component of freedom of expression guaranteed by the Constitution. It will only be natural that in the current dispensation the 25-member panel formed by the government, will be like any other government panel be a group of RSS fellow travellers. As of now, there is little chance for any member from any media entity or any independent agency, not favoured by the sangh parivar, to be a part of the accreditation panel. In addition, the reasons listed for refusing accreditation are neither objective nor transparent.
No one would argue that acts that harm national security, sovereignty, integrity, public order, decency, morality, friendly relations with foreign countries can ever be permitted. No sovereign nation can brook such acts or trends. But then what is crucial is who will decide if an act is anti-national or harmful to national interest and on what criteria. When the last word on that is left to the government, and if the government is not bound to disclose the reasons, as it happened in the licence revocation of MediaOne, the accused persons will be denied even primary justice. For example, as global human rights organisations like Amnesty International ceaselessly point out, Israel is a country that engages in human rights violations and massacres including those of children. But Israel is a friendly country for India. Therefore, journalists who file reports against that country are sure not to obtain accreditation in future. It need not be overemphasised then that the BJP is a party that still makes ample noise about the Emergency imposed by former prime minister Indira Gandhi in 1975. But the actions of Modi government are way more lethal and of graver consequences than the media-muzzling actions during the Emergency. Going by contemporary trends, the democratic republic of India is being led into the club of autocratic and totalitarian countries that tolerate only government's pliant media and scribes. So the country is going through a crucial hour when every freedom-loving citizen will have to fight against this fascism that herds the country to this state of affairs.