The Editors Guild of India on Wednesday condemned the finance ministry’s arbitrary decision to restrict even government accredited journalists access to the ministry’s offices housed in the North Block without prior appointment. The guild called the decision by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman a “gag on media freedoms”, and urged her to reconsider and withdraw it.

On Tuesday, Sitharaman’s office had said that journalists, including those accredited by the Press Information Bureau, will be able to enter only after prior appointments with government officials. “No other restrictions have been imposed on their entry inside MOF, North Block,” the statement by her office had said.

“A blanket order is not the answer,” the guild said in a statement. “Journalists do not go to government offices to enjoy the comforts and hospitality of visitors’ rooms designated for them. They go to perform their challenging job of news gathering. This order is a gag on media freedoms and can even result in a further fall in India’s global press freedom rankings, especially as the contagion can easily spread to other ministries as well.”

The guild said it does not dispute that journalists should behave with “restraint and responsibility” even as they enjoy access to the finance ministry. It also said that if Sitharaman felt any inconvenience because of the entry of journalists, the system could be improved by having a discussion with the media persons.

The finance ministry statement had said that it was on the request of journalists that Sitharaman has now made “adequate arrangements” outside gate No. 2 in North Block. The arrangement includes an air-conditioned waiting room for journalists where at regular intervals water, tea and coffee will be served.

These procedures, the ministry had claimed, were part of an overall effort to make reporting for journalists “hassle free and convenient”.

This was for the first time that such restrictions have been imposed, according to ThePrint. Journalists accredited by the PIB were, otherwise, allowed to freely enter offices of all ministries and departments, except those of defence ministry and external affairs.