Indian media as well as members of the Press Council of India (PCI) have slammed the body for backing the government's restrictions in occupied Kashmir.
Last week, the PCI sought permission from the Indian Supreme Court to intervene in a petition filed by Kashmir Times executive editor Anuradha Bhasin, which demands an end to communications restrictions in occupied Jammu and Kashmir.
But though the statutory object of the country’s media watchdog is to “preserve the freedom of the press”, the PCI petition describes the ban on communication and free movement ─ which many local journalists say has severely affected the functioning of the press in J&K ─ as being “in the interest of the integrity and sovereignty of the nation”, reported The Wire.
In its editorial on Monday, Indian daily The Hindu said: "The notion that an open society, and an independent media, are somehow a threat to the nation’s integrity and sovereignty is nothing less than a rationale for despotism. That it is coming from a statutory, quasi-judicial, autonomous body whose mandate it is to protect and reinforce a professional and objective media is shocking."
The editorial pointed out that India was currently "witnessing a disturbing debasement of standards in journalism, and the PCI’s legal and ethical obligation has never been so critical".
"The PCI must play its mandated role and not kowtow to the government of the day," stressed the publication.
Krishna Prasad, former editor of Outlook magazine and a former member of the council, was among those who slammed the move.
“If the Press Council sees a free and open media as a threat to the nation’s ‘sovereignty’, and if it believes readers and viewers can and ought to be kept in the dark in special situations, it is a sad day for Indian democracy, although it would not surprise anybody that things have come to such a pass,” Prasad told The Wire.
The move by PCI Chairman CK Prasad has led to a difference of opinion, The Economic Times reported, with some members calling it a “decision made by Prasad without consulting others”.
“First of all, it is not the considered view of the council. The views of all members should have been taken. At least, a discussion should have taken place,” Jaishankar Gupta, a member, was quoted as saying. He added that the plea moved by the chairman fails to mention the difficulties being encountered by journalists in filing stories.
“The Press Council has not received any complaint about any wrong coverage by any media house. So, there was absolutely no need for intervention,” he said.
“The wording of this petition is so dangerous. Though the rules say that the chairman has to get the council’s endorsement for any decision he takes in between meetings, he did not even inform the council about the fact that the PCI is intervening in Anuradha Bhasin’s case,” a council member told The Wire.
According to The Economic Times, the 28-member council has decided to send its own team to assess the situation.
In the August 16 hearing of the petition by Bhasin, the central government had told the Supreme Court that India would lift restrictions on people’s movements and communication links in occupied Kashmir "in the next few days".
Ten days later, however, the restrictions entered their 22nd day on Aug 26.