Subhas Chandra Pattanayak
It is well settled that when the Assembly is about to meet, no decision that obliterates any law or legal provision should be taken by the Government behind back of the Legislature as that would tantamount to pretermitting the rampart of democracy. But promulgation of Orissa News media Accreditation Rules, 2006 just before the monsoon session began on July 31 has shown that the present regime does not bother about this. I have no hesitation in saying that it is an assault on democracy.
Democracy depends upon freedom of Press. So a political activist of undemocratic temperament would certainly want to curb this freedom. Any one, who is in politics but does not follow a political ideology, is bound to be self-centric or race-centric; and hence, undemocratic. And, to every undemocratic design, Free Press is anathema.
To understand this phenomenon we ought to know what democracy really is.
It is a system of management of the economic affairs of a State through collective wisdom of the majority so that maximum numbers of citizens benefit without ruin of any.
Every other program of the State like health, education, environment, defense, foreign relation – mention any you like – is based on and related to the management of economy.
And, management of economy is the sole purpose of politics. Therefore management of the State is known as management of political economy. Political economy is of only two types and is never of any other type. The two types are: (one) political economy of communism and (two), political economy of capitalism.
Neither Biju was nor is his son adherent to any of these two types. So to them politics is a self-centric profession in pursuit of which, race-centric emotion of the people of the disadvantaged Orissa has been deliberately provoked and calculatedly used all along. Hence, like his father, Naveen knows that he is in a wrong track and can stay on as long as the voters are hoodwinked. And to hoodwink the voters, Press is to be tamed and transformed into a Puppet Press by pampering the useable scribes and by side-tracking the unbending ones.
So an anti-Press Law like the Rules of 2006 was necessary. In promulgating it, Naveen Patnaik has given the final touch to the design his father had initially canvassed.
Let us look at the history
The Rules in question replace the earlier Rules called ‘The Orissa Press Accreditation (Constitution of the Orissa Press Accreditation Committee and Grant of Accreditation) Rules, 1994’. When Biju Patnaik was the Chief Minister, these Rules had been framed and enforced with effect from 31.01.1994. It was a bad set of Rules designed to obliterate whatever provision, beneficial to independent scribes, was there in the 1990 Rules and was restrictive in regard to specific components of the Press and the sole purpose of the restrictions laid down therein was to harass the marginally small numbers of journalists who were fearlessly exposing his misdeeds and corrupt practices.
The then Director of Information & Public Relations was used to misuse this restrictive Law against me and my friends.
We had challenged this mischief in O.J.C. between Subhas Chandra Pattanayak and State of Orissa bearing No. 1743/1994 in the High Court of Orissa. The illegal action was expressly disapproved and the Court passed severe strictures against the said Director.
But by that time, Biju Patnaik had been ousted from power and J.B.Patnaik had taken over. His journalistic background well known, the mandarins in the department of I&PR could not dare to use the restrictive clauses against any journalist; but the said Law did not die.
When, the reign came to Naveen’s hands, his Information Minister Damodar Raut, whom he has very recently dropped from his cabinet, took such steps that destroyed the sanctity of accreditation. He wanted a set of sycophants in the accreditation committee. And, passed orders accordingly. The sycophants emphasized that if editor of The Samaja could be taken in, it may support the Government. So, Ms. Manorama Mahapatra, Editor of The Samaja, was included. The notification to this extent was issued on 23.8.2003 bearing number 22670.
At the stage of despatch of the notification for publication in official gazette, a junior officer pointed out that Ms. Mahapatra having no experience as a whole time working journalist for the requisite period has no eligibility to be a member in the Accreditation Committee and hence her inclusion in the notification was ultra vires of the Accreditation Rules. Then the Rules were amended with a preceding date stipulating therein that “Editors will also be eligible notwithstanding their ineligibility” to become members in the Accreditation Committee.
Embarrassed, the Government used this illegitimate committee to threaten 87 per cent of the scribes with cancellation of accreditation on fictitious grounds. I again exposed this evil design on 5 July 2005. And the Government could not dare to carry out the evil design. On the other hand, after a section of print media carried our version in their editions, the trade unions and organizations of journalists, who were not privy to internet but came to know of our version from the print media, backtracked; as otherwise their unholy nexus with a corrupt government would have been threadbare exposed.
Thus unable to help the Government in dismantling accreditation of so vast a majority of journalists, the illegitimate committee breathed its last. But the Government knew for sure that its design could not click because the unions/ organizations of the journalists did not cooperate.
Hence attempts have been made afresh to do away with presence of the trade unions and organizations of journalists in the matter of accreditation.
The entire accreditation committee shall be constituted by members nominated by the government. And the puppets who shall thus be nominated will execute the harsh restrictions provided for in the new Rules.
In the light of my analysis supra, it is discernible that Naveen has no affinity with democracy. In his self-centric politics a Press free from favor and fear is the last thing to be cherished. So an all out attempt has begun and is bound to go on against the scribes who are a bit independent and refuse to join the band wagon of sycophants. Therefore, the new Rules are made more restrictive even as journalists have been debarred from having their collective say in the matter.
The Second Press Commission, which is the last Press Commission, and whose report has been accepted by the Government (s) and whose recommendations have been guiding Government’s approach to the Press, at para 39 in page 90 of volume 1 of its report has made it clear that
The Accreditation Rules should not be applied in a restrictive way. The procedure for accreditation should be liberalized so that the facility is more easily available.
The above quoted recommendation of the 2nd Press Commission is considered so important for freedom of Press that it has guided the Press Council of India umpteen times to issue direction to the Governments both at the Center as well as the States to deal with question of accreditation in absolutely unrestrictive manners. In a landmark decision reported at page 72 of Vol.8/2 of PCI Reports, a direction has been clearly given, on basis of the Press Commission recommendations, for renewal of accreditation in spite of allegation of misutilisation of the same.
This being the approach of the Press Commission and the Press Council to accreditation of journalist, it is a shame that Orissa Government has promulgated a Law with the sole purpose of restricting accreditation and to curb freedom of Press by subjecting the journalist community to the vagaries of a nominated body.
This is the most heinous Law ever framed in any part of the Country. But this is a Law not framed by the Legislature. It is not even an Act of subordinate legislation. It is a Law framed by the Executive and left vulnerable to any nefarious manipulation at any point of time by a notorious Head of Information Department or a mischievous Minister in charge of the Department or a reactionary Chief Minister.
I appeal to the members of Orissa Legislative Assembly, now in session, to look into this matter.
Let the Legislature rise to the occasion and appreciate that freedom of Press entails that accreditation of journalists must be kept out of every possible official design to have control over it.
If the members of Orissa Assembly, now in session, do stand for democracy, I am sure, there would be no difficulty in bringing the Rules in question into the jurisdiction of the Committee on Subordinate Legislation or into the Law making jurisdiction of the Assembly.
Democracy is to be saved. Hence the Press must be kept out of official control. And, hence the Orissa news Media Accreditation Rules, 2006 must be rejected and the notorious design of the State Government in enforcing this set of Rules pretermitting the august House of the representatives of the people of Orissa must be defeated.
It is time for the Legislators to act. If they fail, they shall be exposed. And, then the Press must rise to protect its own freedom.