A group of journalists and civil society activists from Chennai condemned the Press Council of India at a meeting on Tuesday over the media body's intervening affidavit in the Supreme Court justifying reasonable restrictions of media in the Valley. In the wake of Article 370 being rendered redundant, Justice (Retd) CK Prasad, the Chairman of the PCI petitioned the apex court recommending continued media restrictions. The Valley has been under lockdown, without internet and landline connection, for over three weeks now.
Speaking at the event, journalist and convenor of the Alliance for Media Freedom, N Ram slammed the PCI and said that there were not enough words to condemn the move. "This is a dystopian vision of media freedoms. The PCI stands for the freedom of the press. What the Chairman has done is totally unjustified. This is also about the right of citizens to be informed," he said, adding that he would have resigned by this point, had he been the Chairman of the PCI.
Carnatic vocalist TM Krishna, who was also present, said that the restrictions on the freedom of the press were part of the government's strategy to silence dissent. "This is not just about freedom of the press alone but it's done as a strategy to muzzle voices and the issues of the people in Kashmir. Journalists have a responsibility not to be swallowed (by this narrative) or be mouthpieces of the government," he said.
V Geetha of Tamil Nadu Women's Coordination Committee urged journalists to remember that there are inalienable rights of the press and citizens. She said, "The national interest is best served by a free, open and honest media. National interest cannot be equated to national security."
BS Ajeetha, advocate at the Madras High Court pointed out that journalists in a democracy had the freedom to practise any profession or to carry on any occupation, trade or business."The press has constitutionally guaranteed freedoms to do their job. These are fundamental freedoms enshrined in the Constitution. If that is absent, then there is no value. The nation's interest and security is not defined by the government, the ruling party or even the courts," she said.
Members of the the Centre for Media Persons for Change, Tamil Nadu Union of Journalists, Indian Journalists Union, Network of Women in Media, Tamil Nadu Women's Coordination Committee, Chennai Solidarity Group were also signatories to a statement that demanded that PCI withdraw the affidavit submitted in the Supreme Court.
"It is disgraceful that the chairperson of the Council, no less than a retired judge of the Supreme Court, has endorsed the high-handed and unconstitutional steps taken by the Government without even subjecting his actions to a perfunctory discussion in the Council... The Press Council should facilitate the free and safe movement of media persons." the statement said.
However, in what came as an apparent u-turn on its stance in the apex court, the Press Council of India issued an amended statement on Tuesday which said stated, "The council stands for the freedom of press and does not approve of any sort of restriction on the media." The affidavit was filed in the SC in response to the Kashmir Times, a prominent English language daily newspaper in the Valley, approaching the court seeking removal of restrictions on the press.