Journalists slam biased reconstitution of PCI, advocates independent media council

NEW DELHI, Aug 19: The Indian Journalists’ Union (IJU) on Sunday criticized the manner in which the Press Council of India (PCI) was reconstituted recently, and called for the formation of an independent media council.
The IJU national executive committee’s two-day annual meeting here concluded on Sunday amid criticism of the PCI and calls for strengthening media freedom in the country.
Earlier this year, PCI chairman, former justice Chandramauli Kumar Prasad, had rejected all six nominees made by the Editors Guild of India, the Hindi Samacharpatra Sammelan and the All India Newspapers Conference for the constitution of the 13th Press Council.
The Indian Newspaper Society (INS) had moved the Delhi High Court against the PCI’s decision to reject the nomination of Hormusji N Cama, owner of Mumbai Samachar weekly and a member of the INS, in the category of medium newspapers. The court had stayed the council’s decision. The INS had accused the PCI chief of “biased” selection of new members. The claims were, however, rejected by the media watchdog, which said laid down rules were followed in the process of induction of new members.
On Sunday, the IJU today took a resolution criticizing the former judge’s action.
“Shockingly, the outgoing chairman chose to brazenly do away with well-established procedure and interpreted the rules and guidelines perversely with the intent to keep out some organisations and its choice of members. Worse, he held a series of meetings of a truncated council (with 20 of the 28 members yet to be officially notified) to get himself entrenched for another term as well as make/change rules and guidelines to give the government a handle to choose its own members by keeping out legitimate unions and organisations in the future,” the IJU said.
Calling the chairman’s action “undemocratic and illegitimate,” the IJU said the moves “smack of a secret agenda of the information & broadcasting ministry to have a pliable Press Council, wherein the government of the day is not held accountable for its actions, both directly and indirectly, which are threatening and gravely impacting the independence and freedom of the press.”
The IJU added that the Central Press Accreditation Committee (CPAC) has been reconstituted without the representatives of organisations of working journalists and editors of news media “in clear violation of stipulated guidelines and amounts to veiled censorship.”
It said the I&B ministry in March appointed a committee consisting of “a few hand-picked journalists.”
The largest body of Indian journalists said the ministry’s decision was “to appoint a committee consisting largely of government officials and a few organisations to recommend regulatory framework for online media, without prior and meaningful consultation with all the stakeholders.”
The IJU also slammed the government for reconstituting the Journalists Welfare Committee with only handpicked members, and demanded that it be reconstituted with representatives of working journalists and editors’ organisations.
It also demanded that the PCI chairman call a special meeting and that new guidelines drafted to change the character and independence of the council be quashed forthwith and that all stake holders be invited to nominate their members to the CPAC.
The IJU also added that amendments must be made to the Working Journalists and other Newspaper Employees (Miscellaneous) Provisions Act to bring journalists working in electronic and internet media within the ambit of the definition of working journalists.
It called for urgent steps to be taken to include electronic and digital media in the WJA and also within the jurisdiction of the PCI by replacing it with Media Council of India and amend the relevant laws.