The Editors Guild of India raised objections on Sunday regarding the new accreditation guidelines given by the Press Information Bureau (PIB). It said that vague, arbitrary and draconian clauses have been included in it with “an intent to restrict any critical and investigative reporting of government affairs.”
Since no norms have been recommended, it can concede free powers to the police for denying a license to journalists who might be viewed as critical of the government, it said. “It is clear that these vague, arbitrary, and draconian clauses have been included with an intent to restrict any critical and investigative reporting of government affairs,” the Guild noted.
It urged that the PIB undertake “a meaningful consultation” with all the stakeholders to come up with revised guidelines and the new accreditation guidelines be withdrawn. It said in a statement, “The Editors Guild of India is deeply concerned about the newly released Central Media Accreditation Guidelines issued by the Press Information Bureau of India, which lays down the rules for giving accreditation to journalists for accessing and reporting from the headquarters of Government of India.”
It noticed that the new rules contain varied new provisions under which accreditation of a journalist can be repudiated, large numbers of which are “arbitrary and without any due process of law.”
For example, accreditation can be revoked if a journalist is “charged with a serious cognizable offence”, or if a journalist “acts in a manner which is prejudicial to the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of State, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence”, it said.
“It is bizarre that merely being charged has been mentioned as a ground for cancellation,” The Guild added.
Different justification for cancellation is “manifestly vague and subjective”, particularly since no systems have been set out and there is no notice of the arbitrating authority that will settle on suspension.
“Worse still, concerned journalists have not been given an opportunity to be heard,” it said. “Most surprisingly, ‘defamation’ has been included as a ground for cancellation,” it added. The Guild said that a new clause requiring police verification has been added without defining the contours of such verification.
There are other provisions as well that are “restrictive”, it said. In the case of freelance journalists, the requirements pertaining to the number of by-lines have been made “unreasonably high” it noted.
Moreover, these rules have been presented with next to no earlier interviews with journalists’ bodies, media associations or some other relevant stakeholders.
“The Guild, therefore, demands a withdrawal of these guidelines and urges the PIB to undertake meaningful consultation with all the stakeholders if it is intent on revising them,” it said.
The Guild has written a letter to the PIB elaborating on all these issues, it added.