The PIB panel that grants Central government accreditation to journalists has not met since it was reconstituted this March by ex-I&B minister Smriti Irani.
New Delhi: The applications of dozens of journalists seeking accreditation from the Central government have been hanging fire since March amid chaos in the panel that grants it, sources have told ThePrint.
While the Press Information Bureau (PIB), the government’s official communication arm, estimates that there are around 40 applications pending, insiders say the number may run into the hundreds.
Media watchdog Press Council of India (PCI) has now called an emergency meeting Tuesday, 18 December, to resolve the impasse after the Narendra Modi government reportedly failed to heed several calls from the PIB and media associations to step in.
A journalist’s licence to stalk the power corridors for leads, Central government accreditation allows mediapersons easy, hassle-free access to government buildings, besides other benefits such as railway fare concessions and a Central Government Health Scheme (CGHS) card, which guarantees free treatment at certain hospitals.
It is granted by a panel, the Central Press Accreditation Committee (CPAC), to journalists with at least five years’ experience.
The CPAC can have a maximum of 22 members, with the principal director general of the PIB serving as the ex-officio chairperson.
Members are appointed on the basis of nominations received from various national-level media associations/unions of journalists and mediapersons, and the committee is supposed to meet once every quarter or more, as considered necessary.
The tenure of the committee is two years from its first meeting, with the existing panel set up by former Information & Broadcasting (I&B) minister Smriti Irani this March.
Irani, who picked five journalists as members, aside from one representative each from the PCI and the News Broadcasters Association (NBA), was accused of packing the panel with government nominees and leaving out representatives from several journalists’ associations that have been regulars on the committee.
These include the Indian Journalists Union (IJU), the Press Association (PA), the Working News Cameramen Association (WNCA), and the National Union of Journalists (India) (NUJ-I), among others.
Members of the current CPAC include Prashant Mishra of Dainik Jagran, Navika Kumar of Times Now, Kanchan Gupta of ABP News, J. Gopikrishnan of The Pioneer, and Smita Prakash of ANI.
“The Ministry of Information & Broadcasting came out with a notification about a truncated CPAC, excluding representative associations/unions and including government nominees alone,” a member of a journalist association told ThePrint.
“This CPAC does not have a representative character to protect the interests of working journalists,” he added, saying the media’s collective voice had been excluded from the entire accreditation process.
Furthermore, it is believed that two of the members (the PCI and NBA representatives) never joined, leaving the panel too short-staffed to convene a meeting, sources said.
As a result, no request for accreditation has been reviewed since the preceding panel last met in February.
A senior government official told ThePrint that four new members had been appointed to the CPAC Friday evening, adding, however, that these members again did not include any representation of journalist associations or unions.
The government’s refusal so far to intervene is being seen a sign of its reluctance to take the media’s concerns seriously.
Sources told ThePrint that the PIB and various media associations had made several requests to the government over the past nine months to reconstitute the panel and resolve the impasse, but to no avail.
“We repeatedly brought it to the notice of the I&B ministry and other authorities, but no action was taken,” said a representative of a media association.
“This only shows the government’s casual attitude towards the media,” the representative added.
In a letter written in April, the media bodies also urged PM Narendra Modi to instruct the I&B Ministry to include representatives of journalist unions/associations in the new CPAC.
The sources said it was crucial for the government to reconstitute the committee so it could convene a meeting and review requests for accreditation.
Talking to ThePrint, a senior journalist from the current CPAC admitted that accreditation applications had piled up as the panel could not manage to hold a meeting. The journalist, however, said the absence of associations and unions was a good thing.
“There were some associations’ representatives who were removed… It was a good move to make the panel leaner because many of these associations had no contributions to the CPAC,” the journalist said.
“But it is shameful that no meeting has taken place till now, even as there are so many accreditations pending,” the journalist added.
The journalist said some panel members were told in July that more members would be added to the CPAC, including representatives from some “active” journalists’ associations, and a meeting convened shortly. “But that never happened, so now even we don’t know when the government will conclude the process of adding members so that the meeting could be held,” the journalist said.
Meanwhile, the government is yet to take a decision on the grant of accreditation to digital journalists, who can currently not claim it.