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Minister clarifies Jagan’s controversial order on media — ‘it’s not an attempt to control’

The order, which lets govt departments drag media to court over ‘defamatory’ news items, has drawn flak from journalists, Press Council & Editors Guild.

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Hyderabad: Andhra Pradesh’s Information and Public Relations Minister Perni Venkataramaiah has sought to clarify the Jagan Mohan Reddy government’s controversial order restraining media outlets, after it sparked protests at the state and national level.

Indicating the government’s reluctance to withdraw the order, Venkataramaiah told ThePrint that it is only intended to deal with “the constant, deliberate and baseless attempts by a section of media in the state to defame” the government.

He said the government doesn’t have “the capacity or powers to restrict or control media”, but that its concern is to deal with “mala fide attempts” by “politically-affiliated” media houses who write “motivated stories”.

The controversial Government Order, issued on 30 October, delegates powers to the heads of government departments to issue rejoinders, file complaints and lodge cases through public prosecutors against “defamatory” news items pertaining to their respective departments appearing in print, electronic and social media.

Protests and criticism

In the two weeks since the Government Order was issued, there hasn’t been a single case of the government issuing notices. However, journalist organisations have been agitating against the decision of Jagan’s cabinet, and met Governor Biswabhusan Harichandan, seeking his intervention.

The order also drew flak from the Press Council of India (PCI) and the Editors Guild of India (EGI). The PCI moved suo motu and expressed “grave concern”, with its chairman, Justice Chandramauli Kumar Prasad (retd), directing the state’s chief secretary and special commissioner (I&PR) to file replies in the matter.

The EGI, meanwhile, stated the order would “seriously undermine the functioning of the media”, and sought its withdrawal.

Leader of opposition Chandrababu Naidu retweeted the EGI’s statement, saying: “The much respected @IndEditorsGuild which had earlier waged successful campaigns against draconian laws that aimed to curb press freedom is now up in arms against @ysjagan’s GO 2430. I express my solidarity with them and will not rest until this repressive order is repealed.”

Also read: Jagan hit CM Naidu for splurging crores of public money on house. Now he’s doing the same

No withdrawal yet

While Venkataramaiah indicated that the government is not thinking of withdrawing the Government Order yet, he tried to allay the PCI and EGI’s concerns about control over the media.

“We don’t have the capacity or powers to restrict or control media. Our concern is only to deal with mala fide attempts here, as most of the media in Andhra is politically-affiliated, writing motivated stories. This is not the case with national media reporters or managements whose reports are backed by evidence,” he said.

“The situation of filing cases, if at all, arises if such media outlets decline to carry a correction even after the rejoinders from concerned departments. We are fine with a story alleging some misdeed of the government or a minister when it is based on some file, some evidence,” the minister said.

Jagan had said ‘won’t spare yellow media’

Jagan’s Government Order is a stepped-up version of an order issued by his father Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy’s government in 2007, which gave such powers to the special commissioner of the I&PR department. However, given the resistance from journalists then, the senior Reddy had kept it in abeyance.

On the day he took oath as CM, 30 May 2019, Jagan had announced he would not spare the “yellow media”, meaning those allegedly close to the Telugu Desam Party and its supremo Naidu. Jagan even named Eenadu, AndhraJyothy and TV5 as media houses that relentlessly vilified him, and threatened them with defamation suits.

Soon after, TV5 and ABN (a channel under the AndhraJyothy umbrella) were taken off air by cable operators in many places, allegedly at the behest of Jagan’s government.

Also read: Jagan govt dumps Naidu project to develop Singapore-like financial hub in Amaravati


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