CK Prasad
The Chairman of the Press Council of India, retired Justice CK Prasad | YouTube screengrab
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New Delhi: Press Council of India (PCI) chairperson Justice Chandramauli Kumar Prasad (retd) has drawn flak from several journalists for trying to intervene in a plea seeking an end to the restrictions on communications in Jammu & Kashmir.

The plea was filed by the executive editor of Kashmir Times, a Jammu-based English daily, Anuradha Bhasin, who sought the removal of restrictions on communication which she said were interfering with journalists’ right to exercise their profession.

In its application to the apex court, the PCI has supported the communication restrictions and asserted that they are “in the interest of the integrity and sovereignty of the nation”.

The Indian Journalists Union, a representative body for scribes, condemned the move and said the chairperson should have consulted the council before approaching the Supreme Court “and spared members and the institution the grave embarrassment it has caused”.

While this isn’t the first time Prasad has backed curbs on freedom of speech and expression, within the Valley and outside, there were occasions during his judicial career when he upheld it.

A career of over four decades

Prasad enrolled as an advocate in 1973 and was designated a senior advocate in 1989. He was elevated as a judge of the Patna High Court five years later. He served as the acting chief justice of the Patna High Court for two months in 2008 and for three months in 2008-09. 

He also served as the chief justice of the Allahabad High Court for almost a year before being elevated as a Supreme Court judge in 2010. Months after his retirement in July 2014, he was appointed the PCI chairman.

On 26/11

In August 2012, Justice Prasad, along with fellow Supreme Court judge Justice Aftab Alam, had condemned the live coverage of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks and asserted that placing national interest in jeopardy cannot be justified by taking recourse to the freedom guaranteed under Article 19 of the Constitution.

The bench added that the coverage of the attacks had “done much harm to the argument that any regulatory mechanism for the media must only come from within”. 

Upholding the death sentence awarded to terrorist Ajmal Kasab, the bench observed, “Any attempt to justify the conduct of the TV channels by citing the right to freedom of speech and expression would be totally wrong and unacceptable in such a situation.

“The freedom of expression, like all other freedoms under Article 19, is subject to reasonable restrictions. An action tending to violate another person’s right to life guaranteed under Article 21 or putting the national security in jeopardy can never be justified by taking the plea of freedom of speech and expression,” it added.

The bench pointed out that by covering the terrorist attacks in the way it was done, Indian TV channels were acting in their own commercial interests. 


Also read: Should Press Council violate its charter & back J&K restrictions citing national interest?


Internet curbs in Kashmir

In March 2016, the PCI took exception to 10 articles published in 2014-15 by Reporters Without Borders (RWB), the Paris-based non-profit for press freedom. 

In one of the articles, the RWB had condemned the Indian government’s “indiscriminate disconnection of the Internet” throughout Jammu & Kashmir from 25 to 28 September, 2015. It was titled “Three-day Internet ban prevents journalists from working in Kashmir”, and published in October 2015.

In a letter signed by Prasad, the PCI noted that the government was “expected to have taken the steps after due consideration and balance of all issues in national interest”. 

In the context of the write-up, it said that “writing about any incident in a style that is likely to inflame passion, aggravate the tension, or accentuate the strained relations between the communities/religious groups concerned, which has a potential to exacerbate the religious groups concerned, or which has a potential to exacerbate the trouble, shall be avoided by the media”.

Concluding the letter, the PCI called on the RWB to factor in the “relevant parameters” before ranking India in the World Press Freedom Index, which is compiled by the non-profit.

Bringing social media under PCI

A year later, in 2017, Prasad advocated for bringing social media under the ambit of the PCI, as he interacted with editors in Odisha capital Bhubaneswar. 

While acknowledging that every individual has a right to express their opinion, he said checks and balances were needed as these opinions were being posted in public domain.

“While every person has the right to express their opinions, there needs to be some responsibility because it is going out in the public domain… This suggestion is not to curtail its (social media’s) freedom but to make it more responsible,” he said.

He also demanded that the ‘Press Council of India’ be accordingly renamed ‘Media Council’.

‘Full freedom for creative artists’

However, Prasad followed a slightly different narrative as a judge of the Patna High Court as he quashed the temporary injunction granted by a lower court against the telecast of the serial, Ram Khilawan (CM) ‘N’ Family, which was allegedly meant to lampoon RJD president Lalu Prasad and his family.

In the judgment, Justice Prasad cited Article 19 of the Constitution and observed that a creative artist was free to project society or the political system in any manner he perceives, “provided its display does not affect public order, decency or morality, defamation or incitement to an offence”.

“It may be legitimate for the State to prohibit telecast of serial which incite (sic) violence or have a tendency to create public disorder, it cannot suppress even a very strong pungent satire of a political-leader, which has no such tendency,” he added.

He said he would “rather opt for full freedom to the creative artists to project the society seen through their eyes with all the dangers involved in wrong use of that freedom, than to suppress their creativity”.

‘Pen is in pain’

He adopted a similar argument in February 2018 as he emphasised the importance of press freedom and safety of journalists, saying “an act of aggression against a journalist is an attack on the basic fundamental right of the freedom of speech and expression”.

Speaking at an event in Dhaka, he said “free media is not an option in democracy, it is sine qua non (an essential condition)”. 

“What oxygen is for human beings, freedom is for the survival of the media,” he added.

He, however, lamented the loss of credibility facing the media in present times, saying, “Pen is in pain, I do not know at whose hands. Is it self-inflicted or has come from outside, that needs a serious analysation.”


Also read: Press Council chairman: Not every inaccurate report may be branded ‘fake news’


 

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6 Comments Share Your Views

6 COMMENTS

  1. I thought PCI, like the Editors’ Guild, was a self regulating body constituted from learned members of the profession. A retired judge of the apex court must be held to a very high standard.

  2. These Retired judges and their acts prove that the higher judiciary is under indirect control of Government. Judiciary needs to be independent to adjudicate without fear and favor, while both require an external element of influence but majority of it depends on courage to defeat fear and conviction to stand the test of integrity. Unfortunately, the Govt. target the second aspect by indirectly influencing adjudication by way of wooing them plum post retirement posts. Until unless the Judges of higher barred from taking Govt offers immediately after retirement (Cooling-off period) or the retired judges should form a consortium of retired judges who themselves nominate one among them as per a specific criteria, if Govt require service of a retired judge.

  3. Journalists need to be asked about their reports, if they deliberately misreport or falsify events. It was visible clearly that the Lutyens did participate in falsifying reports. Press censorship was one aspect which we can understand is not wanted but reports of giving Western Media misleading Information resulted in media is UK having a hay day. They twisted, they misreported and always claimed sources which cannot be identified. That is their trump card.

    Is press censorship new? Did Briton not have news blackout later censorship during Falkland war? Also during the worst of violence in Northern Ireland, there was a news blackout. Some time it is necessary to prevent spread of false information, but india and Kashmir was being singled out although it never struck British mind that they had the same during Ireland trouble.

    My point here is that a special council be there to question journalists about the reports they file. Otherwise they have no control, even their line managers are unable to control them. I do not know that whether their media bosses encourage them, or they are out of control themselves.

  4. Today the world is struggling to defeat Jihadi terror ideology only because of the civilizational weaknesses of the non believers, the free people.
    In their own territories, they implement Shariah law and prohibit free speech, press freedom and “human rights” is a joke.

    Meanwhile, the leftist dhimmis all over the world are the biggest reason Jihad is still thriving. They portray the perpetrators
    , the Jihadi aggressors to be innocent victims.

    Ask the Buddhists in Thailand, Jews in Israel, Christians in Philippines,, same story. At the front is the slogan their religion means peace and at the back are suicide bombs, machine guns, ethnic cleansing and land conquest schemes.

    You can only blame the Dhimmi jihad enablers!

    • The poison of the Hindu mind, the Jihad of the Muslim mind.
      The only one ancient people the Indian people are the greatest people on EarthRegardless of their religion.
      Somebody is trying to cause Hindu Muslim hatred, they have Organised riots. These people are evil and the ideology is wicked.
      They will get bad karma they will burn in hell.

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