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‘Veiled Threat’ in New Press Accreditation Guidelines Part of Curbs on Media, Say Journalists’ Bodies

The journalist bodies have stated that the newly rewritten guidelines for central press accreditation has again shown the tendency to curb press freedom.

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The National Alliance of Journalists (NAJ) and Delhi Union of Journalists (DUJ) on Tuesday expressed deep concern over the “rapidly increasing curbs” on the media with government moves designed to “restrict free reportage and free speech”.

In a joint statement, the journalist bodies claimed that the newly rewritten guidelines for central press accreditation has again shown the tendency to curb press freedom.

The Central Media Accreditation Guidelines-2022, announced by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting on Monday, lays down guidelines for the accreditation of journalists working for online news platforms.
According to the new policy, accreditation is liable to be withdrawn or suspended if a journalist “acts in a manner prejudicial to the country's security, sovereignty and integrity, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or in any relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence”.
The above mentioned provision of the policy has been flayed by the NAJ and DUJ who termed it “an omnibus clause” that the bureaucracy could misuse against media persons who would not follow the official line on an issue. They noted that the provision was akin to a “veiled threat”.
Commenting on the fresh guidelines, the journalist bodies said, “They are ominous and also show signs of a colourable exercise of power, designed to browbeat  journalists on what to report, the statement added, beside s being discriminatory against some national  and premier organizations of journalists of long standing , which were not even consulted or included in the new committee.”
The NAJ and DUJ added that since several prominent journalists have recently been charged under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act and sedition laws merely for tweets, the said clause in the guidelines was “ominous”. They said, “Slapping such charges is easy for the authorities but they seldom stand up in court. Until any charges are proved, journalists must be allowed to carry on their professional work without hindrance.”    
They also noted that new clauses that require return of accreditation cards within a week of leaving or being asked to leave a news organisation was a very short period. They demanded that the time allowed to journalists to join another organisation or to change the category under which accreditation was originally applied for should be increased.

The journalist bodies further demanded that those who cross the retirement age of 58 years should be eligible for accreditation as veteran journalists. The current age requirement for the same is above 65 years. 

While welcoming the widening of the eligibility criteria in the new guidelines to include digital news media, the NAJ and DUJ urged the government to increase the number of accreditations as the digital media is growing rapidly.

Press Club of India that has thousands of working journalists as members, had in January said that “since after Independence, the facility of the Press Information Bureau (PIB) accreditation card, after due investigation of the journalists’ credentials, in a statement regretted that the consultative process associated with changes or amendments to the accreditation process had been done away with. Agreeing with the Press Club of India and other bodies, the NAJ and DUJ said that it seemed to them “a very discriminatory approach in a virtual undeclared Emergency times against independent critical thinking.”

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