‘Designed to restrict free reportage, free speech’: Journalists’ bodies slam revised accreditation guidelines
“Some changes constitute a discriminatory approach in a virtual undeclared emergency against independent critical thinking,” National Alliance of Journalists (NAJ) and Delhi Union of Journalists said
The National Alliance of Journalists (NAJ) and Delhi Union of Journalists (DUJ) have expressed deep concern at the rapidly-increasing curbs on the media by the incumbent government whose moves are designed to restrict free reportage and free speech, they said, in the context of the revised guidelines for press accreditation.
“They are ominous and also show signs of a colourable exercise of power, designed to browbeat journalists on what to report,” a statement issued by them said, adding that they were discriminatory against some national and premier organizations of journalists of long standing, which were not even consulted or included in the new committee.
The revised guidelines include a veiled threat that accreditation can be withdrawn if a journalist “acts in a manner which is prejudicial to the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign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,” a joint statement issued by NAJ and DUJ said.
“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,” it said.
“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,” it said.
“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,” it said.
“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,” it added.
“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’,” it said.
“Some of the changes in our view constitute a very discriminatory approach in a virtual undeclared emergency time against independent critical thinking,” the statement added.
According to the new accreditation policy of the Press Information Bureau, a journalist stands to lose his/her accreditation if he/she “acts in 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 of an offence”.
The new rules, laid down by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, stand in stark contrast to the last 2013 policy which stated that the accreditation “shall be withdrawn as soon as the conditions on which it was given cease to exist. Accreditation is also liable to be withdrawn/suspended if it is found to have been misused,” as reported by The Indian Express.
Though the new policy allows journalists working with online platforms to be eligible for accreditation with the PIB (news aggregators are still not eligible by the way), it lays down ten grounds on which the same can be suspended.
These grounds include serious cognisable offence, non-journalistic activities, furnishing false information, if their organisation shuts down, or even if the journalist leaves the organisation.
Being accredited with the PIB allows journalists to “access government offices in Delhi”, and is needed to attend events where the President, PM are in attendance. This new policy, however, states that one can’t mention on social media or letterheads that they are accredited to the GoI.
While there are currently 2457 journalists in India who are accredited, the process of renewal of accreditation has seen a delay ever since the new policy was being worked upon.
Who can get accredited?
If you’re a freelancer with over 15 years of experience, a veteran journalist with over 30 years of experience, and journalists with a “publicly acclaimed distinguished career” are eligible for accreditation. For TV channels, newspapers, magazines, news agencies, etc, the size of the platform determines who can get accredited.
If you’re a website with 10-50 lakh unique visitors per month, one journalist from your organisation can get accredited. If your website has over 1 crore unique visitors per month, four journalists from your organisation can get accredited. The conditions for online platforms also state that your platform should be at least a year old and your website “average monthly unique visitor count of last six months should be duly certified by the website’s CAG-approved/ empanelled auditors,” said a report carried by The Indian Express.