After the Press Council of India (PCI) sought permission to intervene in a petition filed by Kashmir Times executive editor Anuradha Bhasin in the Supreme Court and backed the Centre, the National Alliance of Journalists (NAJ) and the Delhi Union of Journalists (DUJ) have condemned this decision by the chairman of the press watchdog and have called him ‘B’ team of the government.
Press Association too has stepped forward against this decision and has stated that the members of the Association were not consulted before the request for intervention.
Since the night before the abrogation of Article 370 – which conferred special status upon Jammu and Kashmir – was abrogated on August 5, the state has been witnessing a complete communication shutdown. The curfew-like situation in the Valley has also forced most of the mass communication channels including newspapers to suspend operations.
Against this backdrop, Anuradha Bhasin, the executive editor of Kashmir Times, had filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court on August 10, seeking directions to ensure that all the journalists and other media personnel in all parts of Jammu and Kashmir be able to practise their profession. Bhasin said that she has not been able to print and publish the Kashmir edition of Kashmir Times as the complete and absolute restrictions on all communication services and movement has resulted in “imposition of blockade on media activities, including reporting and publishing on the situation in Kashmir”.
However, citing ‘national interest’, PCI – a statutory body constituted to ensure and protect press freedom – has justified the ban on internet and mobile phones and even free travel in the Valley. According to a Wire.in report, the council’s application notes that there is no mention of the “abrogation of most contentious provision of the constitution”(sic) in Bhasin’s petition, “which has caused the restrictions on communication and other facilities in the interest of the integrity and sovereignty of the nation”.
Following this development, the NAJ and DUJ issued a press statement, which read: “While condemning the Press Council Chairman ‘of tomtoming’ the government’s interest and acting as its B team, we call for action by unions concerned.”
“[T]he National Alliance of Journalists(NAJ) and DUJ President S K Pande after consultation with DUJ general secretary Sujata Madhok, has called for the widest possible unity to ensure Watch Dogs do not become Lap Dogs of the government and other international interests with their own agenda of balkanization of the country [sic],” said the statement.
On the other hand, the Wire.in report said that PCI members were unaware of such an intervention being sought. The report read: “The Wire spoke to two current members of the PCI who expressed shock at the stand the body is taking. They said that a meeting of the council had in fact been held on Thursday where a proposal to send a fact-finding team to J&K to assess the situation in the interest of upholding press freedom was mooted. The members confirmed to The Wire that no mention was made of the Supreme Court petition in the meeting and they were not even aware that such an intervention was being sought.”
The report further quoted a council member as saying, “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.