In a shocking development India’s Media watch dog, The Press Council of India (PCI) has moved the Supreme Court supporting the Centre and Jammu and Kashmir government’s decision to impose restrictions on communication in the state following the abrogation of Article 370. The council, a statutory body led by a former Supreme Court judge and meant to preserve freedom of the Press in the democracy, said the basic journalistic code of conduct framed by it required the media to indulge in self-regulation while reporting on subjects that may harm State interests.
It said the code was steeped in “morality, social and national interest”.
The council, headed by Justice (retired) C.K. Prasad, has filed an application in the Supreme Court seeking to intervene in a writ petition filed by Anuradha Bhasin, executive editor of Kashmir Times.
Ms. Bhasin had challenged the state of prolonged and intense media restrictions in Jammu and Kashmir after the Centre blunted Article 370 and scrapped the special rights and privileges enjoyed by the people of Jammu and Kashmir since 1954. Subsequently, Parliament reorganised the State of Jammu and Kashmir into two new Union Territories — Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh.
All modes of communication — landlines, mobiles and Internet — have been suspended in the Valley since early August.
The council quotes clause 23 of its “code of journalistic conduct,” which impresses upon journalists to exercise “due restraint and caution” in presenting news, comment or information “likely” to “jeopardise, endanger or harm the paramount interests of the State and society”.
The council, whose objective is also to review developments that may restrict dissemination of information, said “reasonable restrictions” on free speech were acceptable when any news, comments or information seem to endanger State interests.
In fact, the Press Council found it “apt” that Ms. Bhasin did not mention about the abrogation of Article 370 to the Supreme Court.
The council described Article 370 the “most contentious provision of the Constitution of India”. It said the “abrogation” of Article 370 by Parliament, done in the “interests of integrity and sovereignty of the nation”, had led to the clampdown in communication facilities and “other facilities” in Jammu and Kashmir.
It condescended how Ms. Bhasin, represented by senior lawyer Vrinda Grover, claimed the restrictions had affected her publication, resulted in loss of circulation readership and revenue.
In fact, Ms. Bhasin had contended that the information blackout was “fuelling anxiety, panic, alarm, insecurity and fear among the residents of Kashmir”.
Ms. Grover argued in court on August 16 that severe curbs on the movement of photo journalists and reporters be immediately relaxed. She invoked Articles 14 (right to equality) and 19 (right to liberty) and the right to know the conditions of residents of Kashmir Valley.
“Press cards should be respected… information should come out. Media is the fourth pillar of democracy,” she had submitted in court. The court had decided to wait and watch the developments unfolding in the Valley.
Ms. Bhasin had sought to represent the entire journalistic community in search of knowing the truth and ground reality in J&K.
Her petition said journalists ought to be allowed to “practise their profession and exercise their right to report freely on the situation prevailing in J&K after the clampdown on the entire State on August 4, 2019”.
A news blackout, heavy military presence and a near-constant curfew are some of the restrictions imposed in Kashmir since the president of India abrogated Article 370 which gives special status to Jammu and Kashmir on August 5. News media in Kashmir valley are under shut down since then. There are also severe restrictions on the movement of journalists.