Journalists in Jaipur announced on Thursday that they would boycott Assembly proceedings following non-issuance of Assembly passes to several scribes and imposition of restrictions on their movement inside the State Assembly. In a meeting chaired by Speaker CP Joshi on Wednesday, as per an official release, he said that in consultation with Patrkaar Deergha Salahkaar Samiti or the Press Gallery Advisory Committee, it has been decided that entry passes for the Assembly will be issued on the basis of circulation of newspapers and that the number of passes issued to journalists has been restricted beginning with the current session. Thursday was the first day of Ashok Gehlot government’s Budget session.
Some committee members, however, said that they were not consulted before taking these decisions. Moreover, the press passes issued for the current session were stamped with a statement explicitly telling them that the pass is valid for press gallery and the press room only, which effectively means that they cannot enjoy unhindered movement and approach the Chief Minister, his ministers, or MLAs as before.
This led to journalists sitting on a protest outside the Speaker’s office in the Assembly. Speaker’s meeting with a delegation of journalists remained unfruitful, as the former insisted that he was well within his rights. “He said that there is crowding inside the Assembly and that he wants to run it in a manner similar to the Parliament,” a delegation member said. Another delegation member quoted the Speaker as saying that “there were complaints by ministers.”
Former president of Pink City Press Club, Virendra Singh Rathore, said, “We have boycotted (the proceedings) today and it will continue in a democratic manner. This is an attack on our rights. The previous government had brought a ‘black law’ to gag journalists and we had protested then which pushed the government on back foot. We will protest at the Assembly Friday with black armbands.”
L L Sharma, also a former president of the Press Club, said, “We requested the Speaker to reconsider the new arrangement but there was no indication from him that it will be reconsidered. Hence, we have decided to boycott the proceedings.”
Terming the Speaker’s decision “dictatorial”, Abhay Joshi, the incumbent president of the Press Club, said, “This is an attack on press freedom. We have registered our protest and told him that we don’t agree with it. We protested and boycotted the Assembly session today and will continue to do so till this dictatorial decision is not taken back.” The Press Club also wrote a letter to the Speaker, stating that as a result of the decision to issue fewer passes, small news organisations have been directly affected and urged him to issue passes in the same manner as has been done in past.
Speaker CP Joshi told The Indian Express that implementing the rules cannot be termed as an encroachment on press freedom.
“You can ask the protesters that which rule has been changed? No rules have been changed and we are simply implementing the existing rules. There is a designated place for mediapersons in the Assembly. If journalists want to meet ministers and MLAs they can inform us beforehand as otherwise it often becomes difficult as many people claiming to be journalists end up disturbing ministers and affecting the house proceedings,” he said.
“I have not amended any rules and we are merely following the existing ones. We have 200 MLAs and 600 passes for media persons and there are many who claim to be from the press. I am only saying that if you genuinely want to interview ministers and politicians, then please let us know from the media enclosure and we will allow you to go there to the minister concerned. But there has to be some system,” Joshi said.