The YS Jaganmohan Reddy government on Wednesday has gone ahead with its decision to authorise the secretaries of respective departments to sue media houses for defamatory, baseless and false reports. The implementing order (GO RT No. 2430) came despite protests from different quarters.
The order issued by T Vijay Kumar Reddy, ex-officio secretary to the government (Information and Public Relations Department) reads: “Government hereby accord permission to delegate powers to the secretaries of respective departments to issue rejoinders, file complaints and lodge appropriate cases, if need be, through public prosecutor against defamatory news items published/Telecast/Posted in Print/ Electronic/Social Media pertaining to their respective departments after following due process of law. All Spl.CSs/Prl.Secys./Secretaries in the Departments of Andhra Pradesh Secretariat shall take necessary action accordingly”.
Jagan’s father YS Rajasekhara Reddy issued similar orders while he was the chief minister of combined Andhra Pradesh in 2007. Following uproar against the GO from different quarters, the Rajasekhar Reddy government hesitated to implement the gag order. However, it was not withdrawn either. The present GO is believed to be much draconian in nature.
Senior journalist and political analysts wondered the timing of the gag order as the government was severely admonished by the TDSAT for blocking two vernacular news channels. TDSAT had fined the AP Fibernet for not implementing its order citing band width issues. However, sources in the government said that the order was aimed mainly at the department heads who refuse to issue rejoinders when a false story appears in media. It is also believed that this would curb leaking of information from IAS officers. “In fact the gag order has been leaked even though it was not included in the list of decisions taken by the cabinet,” the source said.
The entire opposition in the state opposed the government move. Former Chief Minister and TDP president N Chandrababu Naidu asked the government to withdraw the order calling it as undemocratic. Indian Journalists’ Union (IJU) national vice-president Ambati Subba Rao and Andhra Pradesh Union of Working Journalists (APUWJ) president IV Subba Rao and general secretary Chandu Janardhan submitted a memorandum to the CMO expressing that the order would result in suppression of freedom of speech. Few say that the order might not stand the legal scrutiny.