Press accreditation fracas in Orissa

Editor’s Note: We are reproducing below a brilliant and timely critique by journalist Elisa Patnaik, on the amended accreditation rules affecting journalists in Orissa. The article was originally published in the South Asian Media Watch Website The Hoot. TheHoot.org is run by The Media Foundation.

Additional references regarding this matter, including the interview of SCP as quoted below, can be found by following any of these links below:

1. PRESS ACCREDITATION RULES, 2006 IS ANARCHIC, ALLEGE SCRIBES

2. ANARCHY IN ACCREDITATION

3. STATUS OF 87 % JOURNALISTS IN ORISSA UNDER DIMINUTION

4. LET NOT ACCREDITATION BE A FANTOCCINI FARCE

Press accreditation fracas in Orissa

The newly amended accreditation rules for 2006 have laid down stringent conditions for journalists in Orissa to obtain and retain their accreditation.

Elisa Patnaik in Bhubaneswar

If you are an Orissa-based journalist seeking government accreditation, you are in for a tough time. And if you are a freelance journalist, the task is even harder. The state government.’s newly amended accreditation rules for the year 2006 has laid down extremely stringent conditions for journalists in Orissa to obtain and retain their accreditation. The govt.’s latest move, termed as “highly undemocratic” and “anti press,” has drawn a great deal of flak and protests from not only the media, but also from other quarters across the state. Most of the journalists have rejected the recently published Orissa News Media Accreditation Rules 2006 and have demanded its immediate withdrawal.

A new set of rules for grant of accreditation to media persons was formulated and notified in the Orissa govt.’s gazette published during the month of June. Earlier, journalists were granted accreditation by the government following the approval of an Accreditation Committee considered to be a “representative professional body” after thorough examination of the applicants’ credentials and professional experience. The Accreditation Committee was formed taking representatives from various media organizations and journalist associations. But, as per latest accreditation rules, a new Accreditation Committee has been formed consisting of journalists nominated by the govt., whose decision the govt. may or not agree with. The ultimate decision to cancel/grant accreditation to an applicant journalist now lies solely with the Information & Public Relations (I&PR) minister, a post currently held by Debasis Nayak.

Other conditions required for accreditation like years of professional experience, have also been made stringent making it difficult for even middle-level journalists to obtain accreditation. Earlier, a journalist with five years of experience was eligible to apply for accreditation, but now a minimum of 10 years professional experience is required. The amended rules also note that accreditation would be cancelled if a media person is found absent continuously for three months.

Freelance journalists would even find it harder to get accreditation in Orissa. Not only would print journalists have to gain 20 years of professional experience, but would have to have also written at least four articles per month (in at least four different publications) and 50 articles per year. Moreover, one of the publications would have to be major publication.

As per the newly amended accreditation rules, renewal of an accreditation card would also prove to be quite difficult. The accreditation card has not only to be renewed every year, but the publication/organization in which a particular journalist has been working has to inform the I & PR Dept. about it a fortnight before the time limit. If these conditions were not met, the accreditation of a journalist would be cancelled. Besides, the Accreditation Committee would review the credentials of a journalist every year.

Allegations against the state govt.’s latest accreditation rules are abounding in the local media here. Many have even termed the present govt. as “anti-journalists” and that this move has been planned to prevent journalists from filing anti-govt. stories. The I&PR minister Debasis Nayak and the I&PR Director B. C. Mohanty especially have been targeted for their “dictatorial” stand.

Several veteran journalists have expressed their shock and displeasure at the government’s latest move. “The govt. with these rules is trying to constrict the Fourth Estate in the state. When on the one hand the Right to Information (RTI) Act is being amended for the free and fair flow of information, on the other such rules are being framed to curb the spread of information,” said Orissa-based journalist Gopal Mishra. Moreover, when most of the states are following a democratic process of granting accreditation, the govt. here is resorting to just the opposite, he said, adding that the new accreditation rules would also discourage young journalists from entering the profession.

At a recent meeting held in the Capital more than 100 journalists after discussing the new policy, announced the formation of an 11-member Committee to put forth their recommendations before the Govt. and the chief minister. The Orissa News Media Accreditation Rules 2006 should be repealed and the old accreditation rules of 1994 should be reintroduced with suitable and simple modifications, said another memorandum given to the CM by journalists from other districts of the State.

Although government sources claim that the new rules would cause media persons to take their state accreditation “seriously” and screen out unprofessional journalists, many feel that it would stifle freedom of press in Orissa. “The Accreditation Rules, 2006 were formulated, framed and enforced with this malicious motive. In doing this they have tried to promote a puppet Press by obliterating the collective wisdom of journalists in matter of accreditation, says another Orissa-based senior journalist Subhas Chandra Pattanayak.

“There have been cases where the accreditation of some journalists in the state has been cancelled because of their anti-govt. stories,” said another journalist who did not want to be named. “By amending the rules, the government feels that it would be able to keep a check on the journalists and force them to produce only govt. friendly articles/programmes.” Scribes in Orissa opine that perhaps, it would not have created so much resentment amongst media persons but for certain clauses that clearly point at the state’s intention to obstruct the press media from accessing official information, they opine.

Even if most of the journalists associations and journalists are against the govt.’s latest orders, the fear of their accreditation being cancelled also seems to loom large. Some also apprehend that the perks which come along with accreditation like provision of govt. accommodation (though journalists pay a nominal rent), special invites for state programmes etc, would cease making it difficult for them to work in the future. The present situation has also taken a political turn with some of the Opposition Party members staging dharna against the govt. for the amendment in accreditation rules.

Though journalists have warned that if the govt. fails to take action they would not hesitate to revolt against the amended rules, it remains to be seen what the Orissa government eventually does in this matter.

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