New Delhi: Ever since the Press Council of India filed an intervention application in the Supreme Court on a plea filed by Anuradha Bhasin, executive editor of Kashmir Times, it has faced criticism for not upholding the principles of a free press.
Reports have suggested that the council has decided to change its stand in the top court and state that it backs media freedom. But Anupama Bhatnagar, secretary of the Press Council, has told ThePrint that no amendment has been made to the intervention application, and that it “stands as it is”.
The PCI is a statutory body created as per the Press Council Act, 1978, with the objective to “preserve the freedom of press and to maintain and improve the standards of newspapers and news agencies in India”.
But in its intervention application, it supported the media restrictions and information blackout imposed in Jammu and Kashmir following the removal of the special status of J&K and its bifurcation into two union territories.
What was the intervention application all about?
Bhasin had pleaded before the apex court to lift all restrictions on media and communication in Jammu and Kashmir.
But on 24 August, filing an intervention application in the Supreme Court, the PCI supported the media restrictions and information blackout in Jammu and Kashmir, stating such restrictions were in interests of the “integrity and sovereignty of the nation”.
The PCI also stated that it was duty bound to ensure not only the freedom of press, but also to “foster a sense of both the rights and responsibilities of citizenship” and “to keep under review any development likely to restrict the supply and dissemination of news of public interest and importance”.
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No change in stand
After being criticised for violating the basics of freedom of speech and expression, the PCI wrote a letter to all its council members on 27 August, just a day before Bhasin’s plea was slated to be heard by the top court. The letter said that a sub-committee of members has been formed to study the “media scenario in J&K”.
The letter also stated that if the intervention application was taken up by the Chief Justice, the stand of the council before the court would be that “it stands for the freedom of the press”, and that it “does not support any sort of restrictions on the media”.
Furthermore, the letter said that a detailed reply would be filed in the court upon receipt of the sub-committee’s report.
However, PCI secretary Bhatnagar clarified that “no change has taken place in the stand of the council as the intervention application did not come up for hearing”.
The top court, on 28 August, issued a notice to the Centre and the J&K administration to reply within seven days as to what steps have been taken to lift the communication and information blackout.
Letter to N. Ram
In a separate letter addressed to N. Ram, former editor-in-chief of The Hindu and current chairman of its parent company Kasturi & Sons, PCI chairman Justice (retd) Chandramauli Kumar Prasad has stated that he had not supported curbs on media freedom in Kashmir.
At a meeting to condemn the PCI’s “undemocratic and unconstitutional move to endorse curbs on media freedom in Kashmir”, Ram had called the move shocking.
However, citing portions of the intervening petition he had filed to support his argument, Prasad questioned Ram as to what he would choose if there was a “head-on collision between individual rights and national interest”.
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