New PIB accreditation guidelines intend to restrict critical reporting of govt: Editors Guild

The Editors Guild of India on Sunday raised objections to the new accreditation guidelines issued by the Press Information Bureau (PIB), saying vague, arbitrary and draconian clauses have been included in it with an intent to restrict any critical and investigative reporting of government affairs.

It demanded that the new accreditation guidelines be withdrawn and urged the PIB to undertake “a meaningful consultation” with all the stakeholders to come up with revised guidelines.

“The Editors Guild of India is deeply concerned about the newly released Central Media Accreditation Guidelines issued by the Press Information Bureau of India, which lays down the rules for giving accreditation to journalists for accessing and reporting from the headquarters of Government of India,” it said in a statement.

It noted that the new guidelines contain various new provisions under which accreditation of a journalist can be revoked, many of which are “arbitrary and without any due process of law”.

For instance, accreditation can be revoked if a journalist is “charged with a serious cognizable offence”, or if a journalist “acts in a manner which is prejudicial to the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of State, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence”, the Guild noted.

“It is bizarre that merely being charged has been mentioned as a ground for cancellation,” it said.

The other grounds for cancellation are “manifestly vague and subjective”, especially since no procedures have been set out and there is no mention of the adjudicating authority that will decide on suspension, it pointed out.

“Worse still, concerned journalists have not been given an opportunity to be heard,” it said adding, “Most surprisingly, ‘defamation’ has been included as a ground for cancellation.” The Guild said that a new clause requiring police verification has been added without defining the contours of such verification.

Since no standards have been prescribed, it can grant unfettered powers to the police for denying accreditation to journalists who may be seen as critical of the government, it said.

“It is clear that these vague, arbitrary, and draconian clauses have been included with an intent to restrict any critical and investigative reporting of government affairs,” it added.

There are other provisions as well that are “restrictive”, it said.

In the case of freelance journalists, the requirements pertaining to the number of by-lines have been made “unreasonably high”, it said.

Furthermore, these guidelines have been introduced without any prior consultation with journalists’ bodies, media organisations or any other relevant stakeholders.

“The Guild therefore demands a withdrawal of these guidelines and urges the PIB to undertake meaningful consultation with all the stakeholders if it is intent on revising them,” the EGI said.

The Guild has written a letter to the PIB elaborating on all these issues, it added.

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