STATUS OF 87 % JOURNALISTS IN ORISSA UNDER DIMINUTION

Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

Not less than eighty seven per cent of senior reporters of Orissa are threatened with forfeiture of accreditation according to a press release issued by the Department of Information and Public Relations.

They are alleged to have failed to submit proof of their continuance in job. The State Press Accreditation Committee (hereinafter called the Committee), has, therefore, resolved in its last meeting to render their accreditation defunct.

Under the Orissa Press Accreditation Rules (OPAR), the Committee has no power to cause disaccreditation of a journalist. It can have only a periodic “review” of accreditation. But ‘review’ is absolutely conditional and if it took up any such review, it erred.

Review of accreditation by the Committee is restricted only to the instances of falsity. “If any accredited representative” says Rule 15(viii) of OPAR “is found to have given false information about himself/herself or about his /her organization”, the Committee can recommend for withdrawal of his/her accreditation. But for arriving at such a decision, the Committee shall have to give a “reasonable opportunity to the representative concerned to defend himself/herself” and thereafter shall have to be satisfied that the charges are true. This is therefore clear that the Committee comes into picture only after a journalist is “found to have given false information” and is “charged” for that. In the instant case, no such charge was framed against any journalist. It is not that there are no journalists who have not given false information on their employment. But the department has refused to “find” it out. As for example, a group of journalists are accredited on behalf of Hindustan Samachar. A Deputy Director of the Information Department, Niranjan Sethy, who was in charge of media relation, had brought it out to the attention of departmental authorities and sought for action in the matter. He has been punished with a transfer to distant Sambalpur even as the chief of this group who has filed the false information continues as a member of the Committee! And such a Committee has taken a decision to uninstall accreditation of 87 % of the senior reporters!

What is the wrong these scribes have committed to earn such an impairment of status? According to official version, they have not submitted any proof of their continuity in the profession. What more rubbish than this allegation is possible? Under the Rules of Business framed by the State government “in exercise of the powers conferred by Clause (3) of article 166 of the Constitution of India”, the Information & P.R. Department is in “control” of the newspapers in Orissa. It prepares (so far confidentially) “monthly and annual reports on newspapers and periodicals published in Orissa” and supplies “translation and newspaper extracts to (other) Departments”. Therefore it is bound to know who of the accredited journalists are in profession or not. What is then the justification in asking them to show if they continue in profession or not? Are the journalists bound to answer every silly question?

In fact, under the scheme of the OPAR, an editor on whose application accreditation is granted is supposed to inform every year to the Director of Information & P.R. about the status of his representative. Therefore, the OPAR under Rule 12(iv) has stipulated that unless otherwise informed by the editor of a newspaper or manager of a news agency, the accreditation “cards” shall be automatically renewed by the Director. This provision was made to ensure that freedom of press is not subjugated to the profit motive of news media owners. Taking advantage of lacunas in Indian Laws, media owners, many of who are economic offenders, have appointed themselves as editors or managers. They are in practice of blackmailing the reporters to the extent of compelling them to use their profession-generated-influence for fetching advertisements for the newspapers or periodic souvenirs brought out by the agencies, by using accreditation as carrot and stick. Often this has led to industrial litigations. Go to the Industrial Tribunal or the Labor Courts, whenever you find a reporter has filed a case against the management, the crux of the case can be seen in this. Non-submission of timely information to Director of I.& P.R. on the accredited reporter is the primary method they use to tame a journalist who refuses to oblige the management in harnessing advertisements. This being everybody’s knowledge, the Rules were amended in 1994 to renew accreditation cards automatically on the last day of every year under intimation to the editor/manager of the media, “unless otherwise informed”. It is astonishing that the Directorate of I & P.R. have not renewed the accreditation cards of 87 % of journalists even though six months have elapsed and the Committee has now come up with the idea to defunct their accreditation. Is the Committee, hand in glove with the Directorate, bent upon to harass working journalists in deference to the design of recalcitrant media owners? Probably, yes.

Otherwise the resolution adopted by the Committee, as reported, could never have been contemplated. The Committee has no power, excepting review, to disaccredit a journalist. Once accreditation is granted, it shall continue till the concerned journalist voluntarily returns it under Sub-Rule (v) of Rule 5, can be withdrawn under Sub-Rule (vi) of Rule 5, can be suspended by the Director, I. &P.R. as a punitive step against misuse of the facility under Sub-Rules (i) to (iii) of Rule 15, can be cancelled by the Director under Sub-Rule (v) and (vi) of Rule 15 when the accredited reporter remains absent in his headquarters for more than three consecutive months without any intimation and is found guilty of obtaining accreditation on false documents. None of the 87 % of Orissa journalists now threatened with disaccreditation are shown to be belonging to the above categories. So, why the Information Directorate dragged them to the accreditation Committee and how could the Committee resolve to proceed for their disaccreditation?

Any illegality is not impossible under this administration. When the accreditation Committee is being used to take steps ultra vires of the Rules, the Rules have been amended in the executive level to ensure that certain members of the Accreditation Committee “will be eligible (to be members) notwithstanding their ineligibility”.

And, the Committee constituted under such mindless manipulations, has started playing havoc with professional status of 87 % senior reporters of the state.

Anybody who supports freedom of press should study this case.

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