Muzzling the media has become a pastime for the present regime at the Centre. On one pretext or other direct or indirect it tries to choke the voice of the free press, India prides for.
Else on silly pretext editor of Organiser, Dr R Balashankar, would not have been denied accreditation. There are some other journalists also who on similar silly pretext have been denied accreditation. Strangely enough many others continue to have the accreditation on the grounds such accreditation were denied.
It is also extremely strange that when a news agency files the story in detail quoting Organiser, after a few hours it withdraws it. A news agency does not withdraw a factual story. It needs a probe by an independent agency like Press Council of India to the circumstances it had to withdraw a story that exposes the myth of press freedom in this country.
The press accreditation bureau (PIB) unfortunately is manned by officials. The accreditation committee, of late, has become more cosmetic. Whatever the officials want to do they do it through directions to their mechanism. The accreditation committee often even do not go through the papers or question the procedures adopted by the official. If any member does it, diversionary replies are given.
Quite often, the cases like that are disposed off at the official level. The accreditation committee is not even informed of such decisions taken arbitrarily.
The PIB website clearly states that for accreditation the required circulation is 10,000 and publication regularity of five years.
It also states that accreditation of representatives of only those media organisation will be considered which have been functioning or operating for at least one year, continuously
Organiser is told that it is ineligible for issue of identity card as the newspaper does not conform to the criteria set. The PIB letter states “since Organiser weekly, English does not bear minimum circulation of 50,000 copies per publishing day, it is regretted you are ineligible for the grant of identity card as Editor on behalf of the weekly.”
It is clearly a case of double standard and the decision is apparently arbitrary. If a newspaper can be considered for accreditation after one year of publication, how Organiser with a history of 65 years of continuous publication is denied the facility.
The PIB accreditation is not a privilege. It does not give a journalist any benefit. The PIB has a limited function to check the credentials of a journalist to facilitate their access to different offices. It has no right to deny access on flimsy grounds. Even a foreign journalist has the same access as any Indian journalist has.
What does PIB want to achieve by refusing to issue identity card to Balashankar? Is it just to deny access to a publication inconvenient to the government?
If the PIB even insists on the criterion of the circulation 10,000 copies per day, forget about 50,000 arbitrarily set for Organiser, scores of publications granted accreditation by PIB would lose it. A number of publications, many family held, have more than one accreditation.
Some of these could be named like Samachar Post, In Dinon, These Days, Sambad Sindhi, Digvijay and Kalantar Parikrama. There are many more. Most of these have the “highest circulation” in the corridors of PIB alone. Most of these are not available at any news stand. Whatever they might state about their circulation, they possibly would not be having a circulation of even 100 copies. In their case, PIB accepts the figures issued by a chartered accountant.
Organiser has never concealed its figure. It has always stated the actual figures. It even did not mind stating if its circulation had reduced. But that cannot be said about those ragtag publications.
Of late, under the present regime intolerance towards the press has been increasing. The government is keen on keeping the regulatory function under it. It helps government impose ban on TV channels, which it has done with impunity on many for supposed crimes which persons like the first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru would always have welcomed.
It is keen on prying into the lives of individuals. That has led it to seek control over the internet and social media sites or Blackberry operations.
It does not stop there. It has even tried to plant incapable persons in some media related institutions ignoring the claims of professionals.
The denial of accreditation to Organiser is not an isolated incident. It is part of the repressive mindset. It is not a healthy trend. It bodes ill for the democratic traditions as also the freedom of the press.
It possibly also calls for a different procedure for granting identity cards to the journalists. It needs to be discussed whether such functions should remain with PIB. A review of the procedure is always good and healthy to ensure transparency and vibrance.