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NAJ, DUJ Condemn Media Bills, Call for Autonomous Media Commission

Lightning speed to pass the Digital Personal Data Protection Bill 2023 and Press and Registration of Periodicals Bill raises suspicion, said the journalists’ organisations.
Journalist bodies

New Delhi: In a united front, the National Alliance of Journalists (NAJ) and the Delhi Union of Journalists (DUJ) have criticised the recent swift passage of two Bills in Parliament affecting media and personal freedoms. 

In a joint press statement, the wo journalist organisations also stressed the urgent need for a ‘Tripartite Autonomous Media Commission’ to safeguard journalism and media independence. 

Expressing serious concern over the passage of the Digital Personal Data Protection Bill 2023, the NAJ and DUJ dubbed it as “alarming” due to its inclusion of surveillance clauses. “These clauses raise the spectre of extensive surveillance on citizens, including journalists and their confidential sources. The rapid approval of the Bill has raised suspicions that the government could be pursuing broader censorship authority,” they said.

Additionally, the Press and Registration of Periodicals Bill, 2023 has also drawn the organisations' ire for granting the enforcement authorities powers beyond those of the Registrar. The introduction of draconian provisions has raised concerns about potential censorship of news media, the statement read. 

“These controversial legislative developments follow the amendments made to the IT Rules in 2021. These amendments empowered government departments to demand the removal of social media posts that they found objectionable, further fuelling concerns about potential government overreach,” said NAJ-DUJ. 

Also, recent amendments to the Right to Information Act (RTI) have significantly curtailed citizens' access to government information. The two organisations asserted that these changes had undermined the “very essence” of the Right to Information Act. 

Addressing the challenges faced by journalists, the organisations underscored the erosion of journalists' rights and freedoms, citing questionable labour codes and the dilution of court judgments related to the Majithia Wage Board for journalists and co-workers. These developments have left many journalists and co-workers in dire straits, with cases languishing in courts and individuals suffering, even dying, due to delayed resolutions. 

Advocating for change, the signatories, including S.K. Pande, President of NAJ, Sujata Madhok, President of DUJ, N. Kondaiah, Secretary General of NAJ, G. Anjaneyulu, General Secretary of APWJF, and Jigeesh A.M., General Secretary of DUJ, jointly called for the establishment of a Media Council of India.

“This council, replacing the outdated Press Council of India, would encompass the entire spectrum of media representation, including unions, associations, and independent media networks. The proposed council aims to prevent unwarranted censorship by central and state governments by focusing on ethical reporting, combating communalism, tackling misinformation, and addressing contemporary issues,” they said. 

The press release also underscored the support from both the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Congress governments for the creation of such a media body in the past. The organisations also further aligned themselves with the sentiments expressed by the Press Club of India, the Indian Women's Press Corps (IWPC), and the DUJ, condemning what they referred to as the “unjust targeting” of NewsClick, a news portal known for its comprehensive coverage of issues impacting the general populace. The organisations likened this to a “resurgence of McCarthyism in India'', emphasising the importance of a free press in a democratic society.

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