The Editors Guild on Tuesday slammed the Press Council of India (PCI) for failing to speak up for press freedom, even as the restrictions in the Valley continue for the fourth consecutive week. In a statement, the Guild strongly condemned the media watchdog for defending the restriction on imposed on the press in the Valley even when a case against the clampdown is being heard in the Supreme Court. While expressing its “grave concern” over PCI’s attitude, it said that rather than standing up for press freedom, the council is perversely arguing in favour of a media clampdown.
This comes a day after a group of members of PCI objected to the council’s move to intervene in a case in the Supreme Court regarding the curbs on communication in the state. The members have said they were not consulted or informed about the move.
Today, the Editors Guild said that it expects the PCI Chairman CK Prasad to rescind his “unilateral decision”, apparently taken without consulting Council members, to intercede in the case in the Supreme Court concerning extreme and unrelenting restrictions placed on the media in J&K.
“The Editors Guild of India 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. This, at a time when reporters on the ground are being targeted for doing their job,” the statement said.
In its statement, the Guild said it believes that it is a free media that offers a reliable feedback loop to those in charge of governance, that keeps the citizenry well informed so as to ensure responsive governments, which acts as a safety valve for the expression of frustrations or criticism that can grow if attempts are made to suppress them.
A free media is, therefore, very much in the national interest, the Guild said.
The Guild also urged the Press Council to objectively ascertain the trying circumstances in which the press is working in Jammu and Kashmir. It asked the council to lend its moral and institutional weight to help ease the restrictions that stand in the way of fair and accurate reporting.
Yesterday, Press Council member Jaishankar Gupta, who is also the president of the Press Association, called the council’s decision “arbitrary” and said “the Press Council is not one person, but an institution” and that it cannot become a “tool of the government”.
Some members of the watchdog had raised strong objections yesterday and the council’s move had evoked a sharp response from media bodies.
Speaking to The Indian Express on Monday, the PCI chairman had said the institution intervened in the matter because its mandate is to safeguard journalism in the country. Prasad said, “our statutory application is to see that the media gets the facilities, that’s the only reason”. Prasad is also a retired Supreme Court Justice.
(With PTI inputs)