Budget curbs stay, Finance Ministry restricts access to the presshttps://indianexpress.com/article/india/finance-ministry-restricts-access-press-journalists-media-budget-nirmala-sitharaman-5823098/

Budget curbs stay, Finance Ministry restricts access to the press

This restriction had so far been placed only ahead of the Budget when the entire Ministry is quarantined to maintain secrecy. In the past, the restrictions were lifted on the very first working day after the presentation of the Budget.

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Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman met journalists Tuesday after they sought an appointment with her following access restriction to North Block since Saturday, the day after the Budget. (Express Photo: Neeraj Priyadarshi)

IN an unprecedented move, the Ministry of Finance has decided not to let even government-accredited journalists enter its premises in North Block without prior appointment.

This restriction had so far been placed only ahead of the Budget when the entire Ministry is quarantined to maintain secrecy. In the past, the restrictions were lifted on the very first working day after the presentation of the Budget.

At present, only the Prime Minister’s Office and the Ministry of External Affairs, alongside offices of investigative and regulatory agencies, require prior appointment.

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman met journalists Tuesday after they sought an appointment with her following access restriction to North Block since Saturday, the day after the Budget.

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“Entry of media persons, including those holding PIB accredited card, will be on the basis of prior appointment. No other restrictions have been imposed on their entry inside MoF, North Block,” said a statement tweeted by Sitharaman’s office after the meeting.

“The media persons can seek appointment with the officer/s to meet them. Media persons holding a PIB card will not require a separate entry pass after the appointment is fixed. These procedures are part of overall efforts being made by the ministry to make reporting for media persons hassle free and convenient,” the statement said. It added that “no ban is in place”.

The Press Information Bureau under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting grants accreditation to full-time journalists with minimum five years experience. The accreditation recognises their identity as professional working journalists and does not confer them with any special status. The accreditation itself is issued after a detailed security check by the Ministry of Home Affairs, including on-site verification of their residence by police.

The PIB accreditation card is valid for entry into buildings under the Ministry of Home Affairs Security Zone. Almost all government buildings which house various ministries such as Udyog Bhavan, Nirman Bhavan, Niti Aayog, allow free access to PIB accredited journalists.

The accreditation, according to the Central News Media Accreditation Guidelines, states that it is for “purpose of access to sources of information in the Government and also to news materials, written or pictorial, released by the PIB and/or other agencies of the Government of India.”

Before the presentation of the interim Budget on February 1 this year, the Ministry had restricted access from December 3, 2018, but lifted it on February 2. The order restricting entry is issued by the Budget division in the Department of Economic Affairs, Ministry of Finance.

Opposition parties want to discuss press freedom

Sixteen Opposition parties have submitted a notice to Rajya Sabha Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu for a short duration discussion on media freedom. The notice, with NCP chief Sharad Pawar as the first signatory, is yet to be admitted, but the Opposition parties are pushing for it to be taken up next week.

While BJP member Subramanian Swamy is among the signatories, the parties that have signed the notice include the Congress, TMC, RJD, SP, BSP, AAP, CPI, PDP, CPI(M), DMK, Kerala Congress (M), and IUML.