While the Smriti Irani-led Information and Broadcasting ministry’s controversial circular on fake news and accreditation of journalists was withdrawn in less than 24 hours following outrage, new guidelines issued last week by Goa’s government that effectively restrict media access to the legislative assembly have gone relatively unnoticed by the national media.
The Goa Legislature Secretariat’s “Guidelines for the Accreditation of Media Organisation and their Representatives” lay down multiple criteria for reporters seeking admission to the Goa Legislative Assembly’s press enclosure. Journalists have described these as draconian and said the rules could debar the majority of the state’s media outlets and reporters from covering the assembly.
The guidelines state that a newspaper should have a minimum daily circulation of 15,000 copies (though in “special cases” a temporary pass may be given to publications that do not meet the limit). For websites, the guidelines mandate a minimum 10,000 page views a day for the news section and an annual revenue of Rs 10 lakh from news content only. The guidelines also mention that the newspaper or website should have been functioning for at least three years before its journalists can seek admission to the legislature.
Journalists have expressed shock at the news rules and said that they do not reflect the realities of Goa’s local media, as most outlets would not be able to meet the circulation and revenue criteria.
In a statement on Monday, the Goa Union of Journalists said it was “horrified” by the guidelines. It said the guidelines hit out at at freedom of speech and the right to be informed. They were “designed to block access for a majority of media houses and their representatives for covering the assembly”, the statement alleged.
The journalists’ union said that the guidelines appeared to be a thoughtless copy-and-paste of the rules for entry into the Lok Sabha press gallery that did not take into account the specifics of the media in Goa. The 15,000 minimum daily circulation limit would exclude all but three or four newspapers in the state, the union said. Even the only newspaper published in the state’s official Konkani language would not meet the standards laid down, the union said.
The guidelines also deny weekly, fortnightly and monthly publications entry to the press gallery but do not give any rationale for this.
A provision stating that “all newspapers of a group/holding company as a single entity for issuance of passes, irrespective of region and language” would also hamper press coverage, the Goa Union of Journalists said.
Online news in a bind
News portals, meanwhile, have been singled out for the toughest stipulations and the criteria are “clearly designed to exclude news portals entirely”, the Union said. Even websites that do meet these requirements will be given only a seasonal pass valid for six months.
The guidelines also includes an ominous clause stating that if a news portal or website is “found involved in any activity perceived as cyber crime, now or in future”, its accreditation will be withdrawn immediately.
The Goa Union of Journalists said that the vague and arbitrary wording and the mention of transgressions at an undefined time meant that any report could be called a “perceived cybercrime”. The Union described it as “an undisguised threat to reporters of news portals that they are walking on thin ice for no fault of their own”.
The journalists’ body demanded that the guidelines be withdrawn or drastically modified so that “no bonafide news organisation and journalist is denied entry for the purpose of covering the legislative assembly sessions”. New guidelines should be introduced only after consultation with the Goa Union of Journalists and the Press Accreditation Committee of the Goa Legislature Secretariat, the body said.
The Goa government has tried to impose restrictions on the media in the past too. In February, a reporter was barred from entering the Assembly’s press enclave after his website published an allegedly erroneous report on the health of Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar, who is currently undergoing treatment in the US for a pancreatic ailment. The website had to retract the story and the journalist was detained after a Bharatiya Janata Party leader filed a police complaint alleging that the report was false. Last year, the government had imposed restrictions on media entry into the ministerial block at the secretariat.