Draconian order against media

Media

There is increasing threat to the functioning of the media in Andhra Pradesh, and much of it is coming from the government and those close to the government and the ruling party, the YSR Congress. The latest official measure of intimidation is a draconian government order to harass and punish all types of media on flimsy grounds. The order has given powers to the secretaries of different departments to take action against journalists and media organisations by filing complaints and lodging cases through the public prosecutor if they consider any news item defamatory. What the government has done is a delegation of persecution powers to officials who will decide what is good news and what is bad, and what should be published and what is not to be.  

Andhra Pradesh has a vibrant media and the government order is an attempt to curb its freedom and constrain its functioning. Governments have always tried to control the media by various means, but the AP order simplifies the methods and procedures of harassment by giving a free rein to bureaucrats in dealing with the media. All media bodies and journalists who criticise the government and its decisions may be subjected to legal proceedings of defamation. The likelihood of such action is itself a threat and a coercive measure aimed at bringing the media, especially the critical sections of it, into submission. The government’s argument that adverse news will affect the morale and performance of officials is wrong and unacceptable. It is the function and responsibility of the media to hold elected representatives and officials to account for their actions and conduct. Officials will certainly use the newly given powers to harass and persecute those who criticise them or their political masters. Multiple cases may be initiated against media bodies, journalists or even users of social media from different places in order to harass and persecute them.  

The Editors’ Guild has said that the order would “seriously undermine the functioning of the media’’ and noted that it would amount to censorship if the state were to employ criminal defamation with its limitless resources against the media. The Press Council of India has also expressed concern over the government’s move. Journalists have come under greater pressure and faced more threats in the state after the YSR Congress came to power. The number of physical attacks has also increased. An environment is being created in which free functioning of the media is becoming difficult and risky. The Jagan Reddy government should withdraw the undemocratic order and desist from intimidating and constraining the media. 

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