A group of members of Press Council of India have objected to the council’s move to intervene in a case in the Supreme Court regarding the curbs on communication in Jammu and Kashmir. The members have said they were not consulted or informed about this move.
The Press Council has filed an application in Supreme Court to implead itself in a case filed by the Executive Editor of Kashmir Times, Anuradha Bhasin, against restrictions on communication and movement in Jammu and Kashmir following the scrapping of its special status.
In its application, the Press Council has said that it should be heard as the case “concerns the rights of the journalists/media for free and fair reporting on the one hand and national interest of integrity and sovereignty on the other hand”.
Press Council member Jaishankar Gupta, who is also the president of Press Association, called the decision “arbitrary” and said “the Press Council is not one person, but an institution” and that it cannot become a “tool of the government”.
Another member said, “Delhi-based members are against this petition, they are not with the Chairman”.
The member added that “it was not in the agenda papers, and the Chairman did not even inform informally” and that “rules state that any such decision should have been informed to the Council”. The member also said “it could be the Chairman’s individual view, but it is not the view of the Council”.
The members said the council had a meeting on August 22, but there was “no discussion” regarding the petition. The Chairman could have “taken an endorsement” or asked for a voting, said Gupta.
Gupta said the intervention application “is not the considered view of the Press Council, since there was no decision taken”. He called the application “quite dangerous”.
Gupta, along with C K Nayak, general secretary of Press Association and a member of Press Council, issued a statement on Saturday, saying that the Press Association “has taken a serious view of the unilateral action of the Chairman of the Press Council of India” in filing the petition.
The two members “expressed utter surprise that the Council was not taken into confidence in such a grave matter”.
Retired Supreme Court Justice C K Prasad, who is Chairman of the Press Council, told The Indian Express that the institution intervened 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 explained that the members were not consulted because application was filed “15 days ago, because the matter was to come before the Court in a couple of days, and it was not possible to convene a meeting of the Council”.
Regarding the charge that members were not informed, the chairman said “this is the power of the Chairman, in matters of urgency, to intervene in such matters”. He said “it is not necessary” that a Council meeting be called “everytime”. He also said he has constituted a fact-finding committee which will report, and “then on the basis of that I will take the stand in the Court”.
On the mention of national interest in the intervention application, he said, “everybody is free to give their own meaning, I am not going to give any meaning to that”.