Stricter policy for accreditation of journalists, and the concerns

News: Recently, the government has issued a new policy on accreditation of journalists, drafted by Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (I&B).

What does the policy say?

One, it lays down guidelines on how PIB accreditation will be granted to journalists.

Two, it has introduced a new section about reasons that can result in the suspension of the accreditation. For example, if a journalist is charged with a “serious cognisable offence”.

Three, applications for accreditation will be checked by a Central Press Accreditation Committee headed by the DG, PIB. Also, mandatory security check is conducted by the Home Ministry.

What are the eligibility criteria for accreditation?

One, a journalists should have a minimum five years’ professional experience as a full-time working journalist or a cameraperson in a news organization, or a minimum of 15 years as a freelancer to become eligible. Veteran journalists, with over 30 years of experience and who are older than 65 years of age, too are eligible.

Two, a newspaper or a periodical need to have a minimum daily circulation of 10,000, and news agencies must have at least 100 subscribers.

Three, rules are applicable on foreign news organizations and foreign journalists also. The policy has introduced a provision that journalists working with digital news platforms are also eligible if the website has a minimum of 10 lakh unique visitors per month.

How does accreditation help?

It recognizes them as a “professional working journalist”. It does not confer any special status, but there are some advantages. Only accredited journalists are allowed to report from the premises where VVIPs or dignitaries such as the President, the Vice President or the Prime Minister are present.

It allows the journalist to protect the identity of his or her sources. Also, the accreditation card is valid for entry into buildings under MHA security zone. The journalist and his or her family get certain benefits, such as inclusion in the Central Government Health Scheme and some concessions on railway tickets.

What are the concerns associated with these rules?

One, vague and broad terms can be misused to threaten journalists. For example, the frequently used tool by powerful people is filing defamation and now this has been mentioned as ground of cancellation of accreditation.

Two, the new provision about acting “in a manner which is prejudicial to the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality or “incitement of an offence” is subjective and has scope of being misused.

Three, there is no clarity on who will define the terms mentioned and decide whether the journalist’s conduct violates any of the conditions.

Four, government is bound by democratic norms to provide access to journalists to do their job. Also, If the government is deciding what a journalist can do or cannot, it means the policy is violating article 19.

Source: This post is based on the article “Stricter policy for accreditation of journalists, and the concerns” and “curbs on press” published in Indian Express on 9th Feb 2022.

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