Subhas Chandra Pattanayak
“Keeping in mind the personal safety and health of media personnel and containment of any possible infection”, all media personnel are requested to abide by following advisories:
1. Media persons are requested not to visit the point of arrival i.e.railway station or check points.
2. Media persons are also requested not to visit the quarantine centre or isolation centre.”
With this mschivous order captioned “Advisory relating to return of stranded Odia people”, addressed to all the Print, Electronic, Web and Social Media Houses and all Accredited Correspondents, issued on 2.5.2020 has begun the most dangerous infringement of Freedom of Press in Orissa, in the guise of controlling COVID-19
Under oral orders from CMO, whose order it is nobody knows, the State level accredited journalists are denied entry into the Secretariat (Lok Seva Bhawan) by the Police guarding the gates, which is the worst ever arbitrary administrative attempt to quash Freedom of Press in Orissa. This is worse than what had happened during the declared emergency under Smt. Indira Gandhi.
During that period, we were subjected to censor. We were asked to submit our reports to the censor officer for clearance before publication. But we were never stopped from access to source of information. By denying us entry into the Secretariat, over and above the places mentioned in the quoted advisory, the government has debarred us from having access to source of information.
Worse than emergency
On March 18, the State Government promulgated ‘The Odisha COVID-19 Regulations 2020’. Under Section 4 thereof it stipulated: “No person/institution/organization will use print or electronic/social media for dissemination of any information regarding COVID-19 without ascertaining the facts and prior clearance of the DMET/DPH/DHS or Collector as the case may be. It will be treated as a punishable offence under these Regulations.
This Regulation was amended on April 3 to make it more rigorous. In section 4, it laid down:”No person / Institution / organization will use any print/ electronic/ social media for information regarding COVID-19 without prior permission of the DMET, DPH, DHS or Collector or Medical Superintendent as the case may be. This is to avoid spread of any unauthenticated information and/or rumors regarding COVID-19. If any person / Institution / organization is found indulging in such activity, it will be treated as a punishable offence under these Regulations and other provisions of Law.”
Thus, the Press is ordered to have “prior permission” to report on the disaster that affects the entire population of Orissa. This is worse than the emergency period inasmuch as prior permission to report any event was not required at that time. Even if there was any report on malfunctioning of government, there was no provision for punishment against any media person/media organisation for such report.
Go to Jail, Pay Penalty
If you fail to obey the Government orders while discharging your duties to democracy, you shall be punished like a criminal, the Govt. has told the journalists, which means, if you do not report as would be pleasing to the administration and displease the official functionaries by not suppressing the facts of misrule or maladies in governance, you shall go to jail and pay penalty.
This threat to journalists is discernible in the April 3 amendment of the COVID-19 regulation. The term “Other provisions of Law” added to Section 4 of the Regulation means cash penalty and incarceration as stipulated in the The Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Ordinance 2020 promulgated in amending the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897. When the Act had provided for simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to one month or with fine which may extend to two hundred rupees, or with both, the Ordinance has imposed imprisonment up to two years or with a fine of up to Rs 10,000 or with both. This torturing Ordinance is the “Other provisions of Law” the journalists are threatened with in the amended Regulation, quoted supra.
History of anti-Press attitude
The present regime is marked for its anti-Press attitude. The following articles throw enough light on this –
Let not Accreditation be a Fantoccini Farce
Status of 87 % Journalists in Orissa under diminution
Anarchy in accreditation: Govt. pretermits Assemby, obliterates journalists’ participation
Press accreditation fracas in Orissa
And, lastly has come this secret instruction from the CMO to deny the accredited journalists access to sources information for reporting on governance, which is the primary duty of the Press.
What is accreditation?
The Government of Orissa has defined accreditation in the following words:
“Accreditation” means recognition of Representatives of News Media Organisations by the Government of Orissa for the purpose of access to sources of information in the Government and also to news materials, written or pictorial, released by, or on behalf of the Director of Information & Public Relations and/or other agencies of the Government of Orissa.
Admittance without any hindrance
According to the Press Council of India accreditation is:
“Recognition granted to Correspondents/Editors of Media organisations (as defined in sub clause iv) to have access to news materials, written and pictorial; to offices and officers of the Government at the Headquarters and other centres for gathering news; access for laws, rules, notifications, press releases, background papers, etc. of the activities of the government; for invitations and admittance without any hindrance to functions, press conferences, statutory events and other activities of the government; facilities in terms of travel, research, documentation, etc. relating to news-gathering.
It is sad that the Government of Orissa, instead of ensuring for the accredited journalists admittance in to the Secretariat, to offices and officers of the Government at the Headquarters and other centres for gathering news without any hindrance, is causing hindrance under oral orders of the CMO.
Will the CM please personally look into and nullify this worst sort of infringement of Freedom of Press?