The Union Ministry of Finance has justified recent restrictions on the entry of journalists, even those holding a Press Information Bureau (PIB) card, in the Finance Ministry on the ground that the government is simply streamlining the interactions between the media and the government. Many journalists holding a PIB card are feeling aggrieved.
What does PIB accreditation do for journalists? Does it provide free access to all government departments? How does having a PIB card help journalists in their work?
A PIB accreditation is only given to journalists who live in Delhi or its periphery, and works with a media organisation that has been functioning continuously for at least a year and if 50 per cent of its content is news or commentary of general public interest. The content should also include news and information emanating from the headquarters of the Government of India.
According to the Central News Media Accreditation Guidelines, 1999, PIB accreditation “shall not confer any official or special status on news media representatives, but shall only recognize their identity as a professional working journalist”.
The guidelines define accreditation as “recognition of news media representatives by the Government of India for purpose of access to sources of information in the Government and also to news materials, written or pictorial, released by the Press Information Bureau and/or other agencies of the Government of India”. The PIB card given to all accredited journalists mentions on its back that it is “valid for entry into buildings under MHA (Ministry of Home Affairs) security zone”.
To be eligible for PIB accreditation, a journalist needs to have a minimum of five years’ professional experience as a full-time working journalist or a cameraperson in a news organisation, or a minimum of 15 years as a freelancer. Journalists working full-time for a news organisation seeking accreditation must be earning a minimum salary of Rs 4,500 per month. A newspaper or a periodical needs to have a minimum daily circulation of 10,000, or 75,000 if it is part of a chain, and news agencies must have a gross annual revenue of a minimum Rs 20 lakh for their journalists to be eligible for accreditation. Similar rules apply for foreign news organisations and foreign journalists.
Applications for accreditation are vetted by a Central Press Accreditation Committee headed by the DG, PIB. After a journalist applies for a PIB accreditation, there is a mandatory security check conducted by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs, which also includes on-site verification of the journalist’s residence by the police.
As such, PIB accreditation has several advantages. First, in certain events involving senior public functionaries such as the President, the Prime Minister, and other ministers, only a PIB accredited journalist is allowed entry.
Second, journalists accredited with the PIB are eligible, along with members of their family, for subsidised health services under the Central Government Health Scheme, meant for employees of the Union government.
Third, and most importantly, a PIB accreditation helps a journalist carry out her professional responsibilities. It does so by helping a journalist protect her sources. Since a PIB card comes after security clearance from the Home Ministry, accredited journalists are allowed to enter the premises of most Union government ministries without prior appointment.
They are not required to register or record their presence at the reception, or with any other official in any ministry. This firewalls the journalists from attempts at finding out when and on how many occasions they have visited the premises of an office, and which officers they have met.
The anonymity of sources is one of the essential principles of journalism across the world. It may take years for a source to start confiding in a reporter. The trust between the journalist and her source is, to a large extent, based on the latter’s faith that his/her identity will not be revealed. This becomes paramount when a source is willing to speak out against a senior official or a minister, or against the policies of the government.