Updated: June 10, 2020 7:06:31 am
The new media policy announced by the J&K administration on June 2 gives it powers to decide what is “fake”, “unethical” or “anti-national” news, and to take legal action against the journalist or media organisation concerned, including stopping government advertisements and sharing information with security agencies.
“J&K has significant law and order and security considerations, it has been fighting a proxy war supported and abetted from across the border,” reads the 50-page policy document that mostly deals with government advertisements to news organisations, adding, “In such a situation, it is extremely important that the efforts of anti-social and anti-national elements to disturb peace are thwarted.”
Under the new policy, a background check of newspaper publishers, editors and key staff has been made mandatory before empanelling them for government advertisements, apart from security clearance before a journalist is given accreditation.
While DIPR Director Sehrish Asghar declined to comment, Secretary Information Rohit Kansal, who is also the government spokesman, did not respond despite repeated attempts.
According to the new policy, the government would monitor content published in newspapers and other media channels and decide what is fake news, anti-social or anti-national reporting. The news organisations involved in “fake, unethical and anti-national” reporting would be de-empanelled and not get government advertisements, apart from facing legal action.
“DIPR (Directorate of Information and Public Relations) shall examine the content of the print, electronic and other forms of media for fake news, plagiarism and unethical or anti-national activities,” says the media policy on pages 8 and 9. “…Any fake news or any news inciting hatred or disturbing communal harmony shall be proceeded against under IPC and Cyber laws”.
With regards to “fake news or news with anti-social, communal or anti-national content”, the policy adds on page 9, the DIPR will “devise a suitable coordination and information sharing mechanism with the security agencies”.
About journalists, the policy says on page 8, “Similarly, while giving/finalising accreditations, a robust background-check including verification of antecedents of each journalist would be carried out with the assistance of the relevant authorities… For this purpose, the guidelines for accreditation shall be revised and updated to reflect this requirement.”
It says before empanelment of news organisations for release of government advertisements, “antecedents of the paper/news portal as well that of its publishers/editors/key personnel (must be) duly gone into. This shall be reflected in the empanelment guidelines”.
As of now, security clearance from the J&K Police’s CID wing is mandatory before the Registrar of Newspapers for India issues registration to any newspaper.
Media in India is largely self-regulated, through agencies like the Press Council of India and News Broadcasting Standards Authority. ‘Print Media Advertisement Policy Guidelines’ of Haryana say a newspaper’s empanelment can be suspended if it “indulged in unethical practices or anti national activities as found by the Press Council of India” or the state government.
States have separate rules for accreditation of journalists, but these don’t include background check as a pre-condition.
In the recent past, several journalists in the Valley have faced police action for their news stories. Last month, photographer Masrat Zehra and journalist-author Gowhar Geelani were booked under anti-terror laws for social media posts. Police also registered a case over a news report in The Hindu and summoned its Srinagar correspondent, Peerzada Ashiq.
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