Abdul Bari Masoud | Caravan Daily
NEW DELHI — Coming down heavily on the Press Council of India (PCI)chairman, Justice Chandramauli Kumar Prasad for his “unilateral and arbitrary” decision to approach the Supreme court in support of the media restrictions in Kashmir, half-a-dozen bodies of journalists and editors, on Tuesday, urged him to immediately withdraw his intervention petition and convene the full council meeting to discuss the matter. They asked the BJP government to lift all the restrictions imposed on the media in Kashmir as not a single newspaper has been published since August 5 in the Valley.
Press Club of India, Editors’ Guild, Press Association, Indian Women Press Corps (IWPC) and other organizations held protest meeting at the Press Club here against the PCI chairman’s move to back the gagging of media by the Centre and the state administration in Kashmir.
Passing a strongly worded resolution, the meeting condemned the arrest and intimidation of media persons in the Kashmir Valley and brutal attack on journalists who accompanied a delegation of the Opposition parties visiting Srinagar.
Speaking on the occasion, editors and veteran journalists described the communication lockdown in Kashmir as “the worst kind of undeclared censorship” when even newspapers are not published there since the government unilaterally robbed off Kashmir’s special status. They warned that if this experiment in Kashmir gets the taste of success, it may be followed in other parts of the country. Questioning the PCI chairman’s mandate, they underlined the fact that the press council was established to protect the interest of journalists and media freedom.
Expressing solidarity with the Kashmir media, Press Club of India president Anant Bagaitkar said the chairman of the PCI cannot act on his own under Section 8 of the PCI Act and it is mandatory for him or her to take the 30-member council into confidence before taking any decision.
“Justice CK Prasad must answer on whose behalf or on whose advice/diktat, he took the decision of filing intervening petition in the Supreme Court and why he did not consult the council members? “ Bagaitkar asked.
It may be mentioned here that Kashmir Times executive editor Anuradha Bhasin had filed a writ petition in the apex court on August 10 challenging curbs on media freedom in Jammu & Kashmir and sought directions to relax all restrictions on mobile, internet and landline services to enable journalists to perform their duties.
Instead of supporting the petition, Justice Prasad filed petition under Clause 23 of PCI citing the national interest and security of the country is paramount. S K Pande, president, Delhi Union of Journalists (DUJ), severely flayed the Justice Prasad and added “it is a shame the chairman of the council has acted as B-team of the government against the media in Jammu and Kashmir. We should be careful of such chairpersons.”
He said the meeting is a good beginning in this matter and it should be followed by more meetings and programmes to protect freedom of the media and democracy in the country.
Echoing his views, Vineeta Pande, president IWPC, disclosed that Justice Prasad did not confide or even discuss with other members of the PCI before taking a stand in a writ petition filed by Kashmir Times editor.
Instead of protecting our (journalists) interests, the chairman is supporting the government which did not utter a word when three woman journalists accompanying the Opposition delegation were roughed up by the security forces at Srinagar Airport, she said.
If there is normalcy in Kashmir as claimed by the government, why then reporters are prevented from doing their duty, she asked.
The Women Press Club president revealed that the present chairman also sided with the present government when the finance minister banned entry of journalist in her ministry.
Former PCI member SN Sinha said the PCI chairman’s petition smacks of mala fide intention under the garb of “paramount national interest”.
“The PCI is abdicating its responsibilities and is acting against the very purpose for which the body was set up by an Act of Parliament to uphold press freedom and improve standards of journalism.”
Calling upon Justice Prasad to apologise and withdraw the petition, he revealed that the retired Supreme Court judge was elected as chairman by the government nominated members.
Another journalist, Urmilesh, said that the curbs on the press today are worse than those imposed during the emergency when the declared publication of newspapers was not banned. He also slammed big media houses and papers for their silence on gagging of the media in Kashmir.
Press Association president Jai Shankar Gupta warned that if this experiment gets succeeded in Kashmir, it can be replicated in rest of the country. Calling upon the chairman to define the “national interest”, Gupta said the free flow of information is the real essence of democracy and it kills the fake news. Are journalists antinational? He asked.
Referring to journalist Iftikhar Gilani’s tweet that he did not speak to his mother, a cancer patient, due to communication clamped down since August 5, Gupta said it is for the first time after 1952, that not a single news paper published in Kashmir. He warned that if media is robbed of its freedom then democracy in this country will not survive.
“ We will fight till our last breath for protecting and saving the media freedom and democracy in the country, he vowed.
Former editor of Hindustan Times Prem Shankar Jha said the PCI chairman is a former judge of the Supreme Court and he would expect that the PCI chairman withdraws his petition. He said he has been visiting Kashmir for the last 30 years and warned that the anger in Kashmir has been bottled up which can explode the clampdown is lifted.
Hartosh Singh Bal, Sabina Inderjit, Vijay Kranti, Habib Akhter, Shahid Abbas, AU Asif and others also spoke on the occasion and expressed their solidarity with the journalists in Kashmir. They also said if the PCI does not withdraw its petition, all the journalists bodies would jointly petition in support of the Bhasin’s writ petition which is due to come up for hearing on August 28 in the Supreme Court.
They also demanded that PCI should send a delegation to Kashmir Valley and give a fact-finding report.
Later in a statement, the Editors Guild of India said it is gravely concerned that the Press Council of India, an institution created to safeguard press freedom, is not only failing to speak up for it but is perversely arguing for a media clampdown in the name of national interest.
The Guild urges the Press Council to objectively ascertain the trying circumstances in which the press is working in Jammu and Kashmir and lend its moral and institutional weight to help ease the restrictions that stand in the way of fair and accurate reporting.