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Kerala - Press Freedom Shackled?

image credits: Ananda Prabhu

 

News:

Kerala issues media guidelines, opposition fumes. ~Business Standard

Facts:


The Kerala government has come out with a list of stringent restrictions on media interaction with ministers in office and other VIPs. The circular, issued by Home Secretary Subrata Biswas, effectively puts the State Information and Public Relations Department(IPRD) in-charge of all communications between the government and the media, also imposes restrictions on media directly seeking responses from the chief minister, ministers and other prominent personalities at airport, railway stations, guest houses and at other public places and functions.

Side:


The order by the government is an unacceptable encroachment on freedom of the press in the state. The circular imposes restrictions on when where and how media can question the government and seek answers from them. It further goes on to restrict entry of journalists to the Public Relations Department (PRD) within the state secretariat. According to the circular, the media will have to depend on the IPRD for clearance before directly seeking responses from the people occupying the offices coming under its ambit. Put in other words, it bans the media from the customary practice of taking sound bytes from CM and other high profile people at public functions and places.

The clearance to be obtained from various levels of the bureaucracy before interacting with a person occupying public office is blatantly anti-democratic and impractical. It is an unnecessary curb which would defeat the purpose a free media. Opposition Leader Ramesh Chennithal has termed the move “highly dangerous" as it would impede free media in the state, and is unheard of in any other state, not even in the national capital. Alleging the move came into effect with full knowledge of the CM, he has urged the state government to withdraw the order. Senior Congress leader V M Sudheeran has alleged the current LDF government is diluting the democratic process by hindering the media's ability to bring about transparency in government policies and decisions and is yet another manifestation of the 'police raj' government. KPCC working president Kodikkunnil Suresh has termed the government's move a challenge towards democracy. “It’s a Fascist move and cannot be accepted. Pinarayi government has introduced the restrictions due to its intolerance towards media for reporting the corruption and harassment charges against its ministers,” he said.

Flip-Side:


The circular the government has come out with is because of security concerns. Journalists often mob ministers for their comments and views, shouting questions and jostling against each other at public venues. Such impromptu interactions pose unnecessary risks to security and creates inordinate delays. “The unnecessary rush by the media to get reactions from CM and other high profile persons causes security problems. At present there is no scientific protocol existing for this,” the order says. It goes on to state that “..the present way of forcing the CM and other high profile people to give reaction will not be allowed without prior intimation to the Information and Public Relations Department”. The circular should thus be viewed only as trade-off between rising security concerns and journalistic freedom, and not as an arbitrary curb on free media in the state. Further, the restrictions imposed on entering the PRD is only for journalists without proper accreditation and not for everyone.

The circular is based on the recommendations of the Justice PS Antony Commission, a judicial commision appointed to probe into the conspiracy behind the phone tapping incident which led to NCP MLA, AK Saseendran’s resignation as Transport Minister. Hence all allegations that it is a purely politically motivated order is unfounded and baseless. Further, with the circular inviting severe criticisms from various corners, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan himself has ordered to verify whether there are unnecessary restrictions imposed on the media by the implementation of the order.





Athul Krishna A is an ardent fan of everything DC, everything fantasy and everything sci-fi. You can read short stories written by him at YourStoryClub. Currently pursing a B.Tech degree from College of Engineering Trivandrum. He can be reached at athulkrishnaa@gmail.com



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