Ahead of the Press Council of India (PCI) meeting on Wednesday, eight prominent media bodies have sought Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s intervention to defer the meet of the “truncated” council, alleging that the PCI chairman has adopted “arbitrary” procedure to reconstitute it. In a letter to the Prime Minister on Monday, they alleged that the procedure adopted for reconstitution of the 13th PCI was “arbitrary” and said if not reversed, it would “gravely” impact media freedom and access to information critical to democracy.
“The reconstitution…undertaken by Chairman Justice (retd) C K Prasad has overlooked precedent and adopted a process to keep out certain media associations and candidates. His action has cast serious doubts over the autonomy and neutrality of the PCI, mandated to preserve and protect the freedom of the press,” they said in the letter.
The letter was signed by representatives of Indian Newspaper Society (INS), Indian Journalists Union (IJU), All India Newspaper Editors Conference (AINEC), Working News Cameramen Association (WNCA), National Union of Journalists (India) (NUJ (I)), Hindi Samachar Patra Sammelan, All India Small and Medium Newspapers Federation and Press Association.
It said the PCI chairman has called a meeting of the reconstituted Press Council on April 11 with only eight members –five MPs and three official nominees –out of 28 members, leaving out representatives of the print media organisations whose names were yet to be notified. Maintaining that the PCI reconstitution was still underway, the media bodies said holding a meeting of such a “truncated PCI was unfair” and goes against the spirit of the Press Council Act.
“We request you to immediately intervene, as you did on the ‘fake news’ order, to have the meeting deferred till the full council is reconstituted and restore the credibility and sanctity of the PCI. This will go a long way in protecting and preserving the freedom of the Press, vital to democracy,” the letter said. The PCI had on Monday refuted allegations that its chairman had adopted a process to keep out certain media associations and candidates from the selection process while reconstituting the panel, saying the names were drawn from those submitted by the notified associations.
In the letter, the media bodies also urged Modi to instruct the Information and Broadcasting Ministry to include representatives of journalist unions/associations who have been kept out of the recently-reconstituted Central Press Accreditation Committee (CPAC) despite submitting required documents to the Press Information Bureau (PIB).
On March 2018, the I&B Ministry had announced that it has reconstituted the CPAC, making it leaner from a 22-member to an eight-member body. Media bodies alleged that keeping out representatives of journalists unions/associations was a clear violation of the guidelines. “The reconstituted CPAC with hand-picked journalists and organisations, ignoring the claims of representatives organisations, gives the distinct impression that it is meant to curtail access to sources of information and amounts to veiled censorship,” they said in the letter.
In a press release, the organisations also rubbished the claim of the PCI chairman that selection of names from the panels were done according to the law, and reiterated their charge that the chairman kept out organisations such as Editors Guild of India and National Union of Journalists (I) on narrow interpretation of the rules and the Act.
They said the PCI statement “cleverly blamed the Associations of compromising the autonomy and neutrality of the PCI to evade responsibility of the chairman for the sorry state of affairs”.