Press Council: Fence that ate the crop

Press Council: Fence that ate the crop

The restrictions imposed on the media in Kashmir have gone on for too long. Responsible media forums like the Editors’ Guild have expressed concern over the clampdown, as such curbs are undemocratic and counterproductive. (PTI File Photo)

The Press Council of India (PCI) has failed to live up to its mandate and responsibility with its support for and even defence of the restrictions on communications imposed in Jammu & Kashmir by the government for over 20 days now. It is surprising that a body which is expected to be the guardian of media freedom has sought to justify the abrogation of that freedom by the government. What is more surprising and even shocking is that it has taken this position without even being asked. The PCI sought to intervene in a petition by Kashmir Times executive editor Anuradha Bhasin in the Supreme Court seeking an end to the communications shutdown in Kashmir as they curbed the right to equality and freedom of expression of citizens. The PCI, instead of standing up for freedom of the media, said that “the restrictions were in the interest of the integrity and sovereignty of the nation.’’ 

The restrictions imposed on the media in Kashmir have gone on for too long. Responsible media forums like the Editors’ Guild have expressed concern over the clampdown, as such curbs are undemocratic and counterproductive. But the PCI has parroted the wrong and untenable reasons given by the government for its action. A free and independent media only strengthens democracy and is in the interest of the nation. The PCI told the court that it was established for the purpose of preserving freedom of the press, but every argument that it made in the court went against its own charter. The strange position that it has taken may be another case of the degeneration of institutions which have the responsibility to protect and promote different aspects and processes of democracy. The Press Council’s failure to support a free and independent media is like the Election Commission’s decisions and actions that hurt free and fair elections or bodies and organisations like the CBI, the vigilance commission or human rights commissions failing to discharge their tasks and responsibilities in free and fair ways. Even the judiciary has sometimes been found wanting. Such failures lead to a weakening of the institutional support for democracy, the rise in the absolute powers of the government and the shrinking of citizens’ rights. 

Some members of the Press Council have said that its chairman’s intervention in the court was without consultation in the council and against its rules. As they have themselves observed, the credibility of the Press Council has been badly damaged in the process. It has never been an effective watchdog, but now it has shown that it is with the attackers and not with those whom it is expected to protect. 

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