The Press Council of India (PCI), taking suo motu cognizance of the media gag order issued by the Andhra Pradesh government on October 30, has asked the state’s Chief Secretary and Special Commissioner (Information and Public Relations) to file a reply over the same.
The Andhra government’s order grants permission to secretaries of all departments to issue rejoinders or file defamation cases against media houses for “baseless and defamatory news”.
PCI chairman Justice (retd) Chandramauli Kumar Prasad expressed grave concern over the order. “The chairman is of the view that the threat to prosecute media personnel in general shall demoralise journalists in large, which shall have a severe bearing on the freedom of press. Not only this, the problems which the order in question seeks to redress can very well be remedied by the Council itself,” a PCI statement said.
However, the government has defended the order, stating that it is only intended to check malicious news. State Minister for Information and Public Relations Perni Venkataramaiah said the order states that if any section of the press makes baseless statements against a department in the government, the department head has to give a factual rejoinder, which the media house will have to disclose to the people.
“If the newspaper or the TV channel does not disclose the rejoinder, the government would issue a legal notice and go to court on the issue. This was the crux matter of the order. What is wrong in this and where was the government muzzling the freedom of the press? What the government wants is that the media should have proof when it is making allegations and they should not be baseless,” Venkataramaiah said.
The minister said the government, which is only five-months-old, is trying to protect its identity by giving rejoinders to news stories.
Meanwhile, state Public Policy Adviser Dr K Ramachandra Murthy said, “Earlier, the commissioner of Information and Public Relations had the authority to go to court on behalf of respective departments. Now, the order has been modified and special powers have been given to the top officials of the respective departments with the Cabinet approval. Any person, company, or government can resort to court in case of any injustice,” Murthy said.