LET NOT ACCREDITATION BE A FANTOCCINI FARCE

Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

Accreditation of a journalist does not give him any official status in Orissa, but it grants him access to sources of official information. And, this gives him power. Lest this power fall in the wrong hands, the State has codified its administration by a set of Rules named and styled as the Orissa Press Accreditation (Constitution of the Orissa Press Accreditation Committee and Grant of Accreditation) Rules, hereinafter called the Rules. But unfortunately these Rules have now fallen in wrong hands! The shenanigans preceding formation of the last avatar of accreditation committee, hereinafter called the committee, do strongly vouch for this.

Seldom a democratic government resorts to such illegality in its approach to Press as has Government of Orissa done in the matter of press accreditation. It is a serious infringement on freedom of Press.

Under colour of legality

It amended the Rules by Notification No.22466/I&PR-PC-28/03 on Aug.22, 2003, hereinafter called Notification, stipulating therein that the amendment shall come into force on the date of its publication in the Orissa Gazette.

Bringing any Rule to force on the date of its publication in the Gazette is itself illegal, because it defeats the very purpose of such publication. Rules framed and enforced by the State are sure to affect the whole or specific section of the public. Therefore it is necessary to let the public know and react to the proposed Rule before its finalization and consequent enforcement. This is done through Gazette publication. But the department of Information & Public Relations (I&PR) has made a farce of this by bringing into force its proposed amendment to the Rules on the date of its publication in the Orissa Gazette. It has denied the public, specifically those who would be affected by this amendment, a chance to place their objection, if any, before its enforcement. It is a Rule clandestinely framed and autocratically enforced in blatant disregard to every tenet of democratic discipline.

Enforcement before commencement!

Illegality is in its full display in this particular matter. This amendment has been enforced even before its commencement!

Sub-Rule (ii) of Rule 1 of the Notification, notwithstanding its inherent impropriety and defects as discussed above, has stipulated that it “shall” come into force on the date of its publication in the Orissa Gazette. But before its publication as stipulated, it has been enforced! This is proved by the fact that the names of the members of the Committee, which was yet to be formed, find mention in this Notification.

One may suppose that the list of members of the Committee annexed to the Notification was prepared and formed in accordance with the Rules in vogue. Had it been so, it might have appeared to be legal in that limited sense. But, it is not. What we see is the dirtiest work of illegality. It carries the list of members of a Committee created by a later Resolution! Difficult to believe, but a fact is a fact.

The fact

The fact is that the members of the Committee who find mention in the Notification of 22.8.03 were not in official existence on that day. The Committee comprising these members was formed by Resolution No.PC-1/2001/22670/I&PR. Dated 23.8.2003 and hence was not in existence on 22.8.2003.

Ultra vires

The Resolution besides being ultra vires on the above ground; is also illegal as it violates Rule-4 (ii) of the Rules proper. Constitution of the Committee was regulated by this Rule, which stipulated that the Committee “shall consist of representatives of recognised All India Associations/Organizations of working journalists and editors”. Under this provision, associations/organizations of working journalists and associations/organizations of editors were the only two types of professional bodies that were to send their members to form the Committee and none else. This provision was amended in 2001 substituting “editors” by “media persons” with a new stipulation that the representatives of the above bodies must have eligibility to be accredited as journalists. This makes it clear that none but associations/organizations of journalists, duly recognised, can find a place in the Committee. The Resolution of 23.8.2003 has taken into the Committee representatives of organizations that are not the organization of journalists. Over and above this, the department of I&PR has not verified from the appropriate department/authority as to whether or not the associations/organizations taken to the Committee are recognised as associations/organizations of working journalists and/or associations/organizations of media persons. There are persons in the Committee who do not belong to any association or organization of working journalists or media persons. Their inclusion in the new Committee ultra vires this provision.

Rules relegated

The 2001 amendment of Rules had made it stipulated that there shall be 19 members in the Committee from working journalists and media persons who must be “otherwise eligible for accreditation under these rules”. But the new Committee has been constituted with members who are not at all eligible for accreditation! The 2001 amendment had made rooms for creation by the Committee of a standing sub-committee comprising five of its “Bhubaneswar based” members only. But, instead of the Committee, the department of I&PR has constituted the standing sub-committee with 40% of its members belonging to “Cuttack”! Where from the department got the authority to play this machination? In fact it has done it unauthorizedly. It is done by wrongful use of the Notification before its commencement.

Eligible notwithstanding ineligibility

An in-depth look into the matter makes it clear that the departmental authorities wanted a puppet Committee whereto they found two of the Cuttack-based Editors suitable. But, under the Rules in vogue, they had no eligibility for accreditation, and hence no eligibility for membership of the Committee. To overcome this hurdle, Rule 4 (a)(ii) was amended with the insertion, “Editors will also be eligible notwithstanding their ineligibility for accreditation”! Can you imagine such a farce to have ever been played anywhere? A government makes it mandatory for the members of the Committee to be “otherwise eligible for accreditation” and at the same time goes on to say that some of them can also be considered “eligible notwithstanding their ineligibility”! The farce doesn’t end here. The favoured persons hand-picked to the ‘standing sub-committee’ included two Cuttack-based members where as the rule in vogue had made it mandatory that only Bhubaneswar-based members of Committee can be elected to this body. In order to nullify this restriction so that favoured persons could be rewarded, the word “Cuttack” got inserted to sub-Rule (viii) of Rule 4.

Who machinated this is not a difficult question to find an answer to. What is more important is: should we allow Press Accreditation to become a fantoccini farce?

Those, to whom freedom of press is most precious, are at a loss to understand as to how scribes of the State are totally silent on such rampant relegation of the Rules that govern their access to source of information.

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