Press Council chairman denies PCI is supporting the “abrogation of freedom of the Press [in Kashmir] by government”; says PCI does not approve of any action that restricts free flow of information

As criticism mounts over the decision of the media watchdog Press Council of India (PCI) to intervene in the Supreme Court in a petition filed by a Kashmir woman newspaper editor against the curbs on the media in the valley, the Council’s chairman contends it has neither argued for the curtailment of the freedom of the Press in the Valley—nor backed the Narendra Modi government in its application.

Serving members of the PCI have expressed reservations over the PCI intervention without it being discussed in a full Council meeting on August 22. Quality newspapers like The Indian Express and Deccan Herald have weighed in on the topic with editorials today, after The Hindu yesterday. Media bodies like the Editors Guild and industry unions have opposed the PCI move.

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But the Council chairman Justice C.K. Prasad (in picture, above) says the opposition to the PCI intervention in the petition filed by Kashmir Times executive editor Anuradha Bhasin has been “founded on the wrong premise that the PCI supported and justified the abrogation of the freedom by government”.

Au contraire.

“The intervention filed by the Council is in public domain and needs to be seen before coming to a conclusion. Anybody is free to show me even a word in the petition which tends to justify any such conclusion,” he says.

The PCI chairman says since there were two issues before the Supreme Court, one of national interest and the other of freedom of the press, the Council felt the case important enough to intervene.

“We felt our intervention was necessary to place our point of view before the court and to assist the court. We have not taken a stand against the press.

“The Press Council of India stands by freedom of the press and does not approve of any action by the government that places restrictions on the free flow of information,” asserts Justice Prasad, a former judge of the Supreme Court.

(emphasis added)

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The Deccan Herald editorial today (above) makes the point that “what is more surprising and even shocking is that it [the Press Council] has taken this position without even being asked”.

But Justice Prasad says it is in the PCI’s mandate to intervene even if not asked for—and that it has done so before.

“As the mandate of the Council is to preserve the freedom of the Press and the matter before the Supreme Court having bearing on that intervention, the application has been filed. It has not been done in this case alone. It is the practice which the Council follows in important issues.”

In March this year, the Press Council of India had intervened in the Supreme Court after the editor of The Shillong Times Patricia Mukhim filed a petition challenging an order of the Meghalaya High Court jailing her for three months, for contempt of court.

The Kashmir Times case is slated to come up in the SC on Wednesday, August 28.

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Photograph: By special arrangement

 

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