The Indian Journalists Union and three of its nominated members to the Press Council of India criticised Chairperson Justice (retired) CK Prasad’s “blatant violation of the Council rules” by planning to intervene in a plea seeking an end to the restrictions on communications in Jammu and Kashmir.
In a statement, Indian Journalists Union President and Press Council of India member D Amar, IJU Secretary General and International Federation of Journalists Vice President Sabina Inderjit, and two Press Council members, Balwinder S Jammu and M Majid, said the chairperson should have consulted the council before approaching the Supreme Court “and spared members and the institution the grave embarrassment it has caused”.
This move, the union said, not only undermined the credibility of the organisation but went against the primary aim of the institution, which was to protect the freedom of press. The plea that the Press Council sought to intervene in was filed by Kashmir Times Executive Editor Anuradha Bhasin in the Supreme Court. In its request to the court, the Press Council supported the restrictions on media in the state and said it was “in the interest of the integrity and sovereignty of the nation”.
Balwinder Jammu told Scroll.in that in a meeting on August 22, some members of the council wanted to pass a resolution “seeking the government to withdraw the communication restrictions and allow free coverage in Jammu and Kashmir”. But as this was not accepted, they instead decided to send a four-member team to Jammu and Kashmir to assess the situation.
“The chairman during this meeting did not inform the council about the petition, which took a stand diametrically opposite to what the members wanted,” Jammu said. “This is shocking. We will decide what to do next. The PCI should withdraw the petition it has filed already and move a new petition that will uphold free speech and seek the removal of restrictions.”
The statement by the Indian Union of Journalists said the chairperson also ignored their advice on two other counts. It said that at the August 22 meeting, CK Prasad did not inform the members of the Press Council of India of the affidavit filed in the Supreme Court. “This is in clear violation of Rule 8 of The Press Council (Procedure for Conduct of Meetings and Business) Regulation, 1979,” the union said. “The IJU demanded that the Chairman should recall the affidavit and a fresh affidavit may be filed in conformity with the PCI’s declared policy of upholding freedom of press.”
The Kashmir Times editor, in her petition, had stated that the restrictions – which have been in place since August 5, when the Centre decided to scrap Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and split it into two Union territories – were curbing the rights of journalists under the provisions of Articles 14 [equality before the law] and 19 [freedom of speech and expression] of the Constitution of India. She said the shutdown has fuelled anxiety, panic, alarm, insecurity and fear among the residents of the Kashmir.
A group of journalists on Saturday expressed concern at the Press Council of India’s plan to intervene in the plea, and said it appeared that the council was abrogating its constitutional responsibility towards standing for press freedom. Earlier this month, the Editors Guild of India and the Indian Women’s Press Corps expressed concern over the communication blackout in Kashmir.
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