Media Accreditation Guidelines- 2022

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    • The Central government recently released the Central Media Accreditation Guidelines-2022 on journalists, introducing an entire section about reasons that can result in the suspension of the accreditation. 

    About

    • The new policy, prepared by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (I&B) and issued by the Press Information Bureau, lays down guidelines on how PIB accreditation will be granted to eligible journalists. 
    • At the moment there are 2,457 PIB-accredited journalists in the country.

    Key Provisions under Guidelines

    • Suspension or withdrawal of accreditation: 
      • If a journalist “acts in manner which is prejudicial to the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement of an offence”, her accreditation can be cancelled.
    • Central Media Accreditation Committee: 
      • As per the guidelines, the Government of India shall constitute a Committee called the Central Media Accreditation Committee, chaired by the Principal DG, PIB and comprising up to 25 members nominated by the Government to discharge the functions laid down under these guidelines.
    • Access to offices: 
      • Accreditation allows journalists to access government offices in Delhi, and is needed for entry to certain events in which the President or the Prime Minister are present.
    • Rules for digital news publishers: 
      • The general terms of accreditation would imply apply in case of digital news publishers.
    • Eligible journalists: 
      • Journalists working with newspapers, weekly or fortnightly magazines, news agencies, foreign publications, TV channels or agencies, and Indian TV news channels are also eligible for accreditation, based on the size of each platform.
      • Freelancers with over 15 years of experience, and veteran journalists with over 30 years of experience, over 65 years old, with a publicly acclaimed distinguished career are also eligible.
    • News aggregators: 
      • The news aggregator should not be considered.
    • Requisite information to the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting: 
      • The digital news publishers applying for accreditation should have furnished requisite information to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting under Rule 18 of the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code), Rules, 2021, and have not violated the rules.

    Concerns

    • Defamation hindrance to Freedom of Speech: A common tool used by powerful people is filing of defamation cases against journalists and media platforms. Now, defamation has been made one of the provisions that can lead to cancellation of accreditation.
    • Subjective Nature of terms: The new policy’s provision about acting “in manner which is prejudicial to the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality” or “incitement of an offence” can be subjective. 
      • Any investigative story on sensitive issues could be held to be in violation of any of these provisions.
    • Dismal Performance in WPF Index: India has been steadily ranking dismally in the World Press Freedom Index. In fact, it had slipped down to rank 142 in 2020 from 140 in 2019. In 2021, India once again ranked 142.

    How does accreditation help?

    • In certain events where VVIPs or dignitaries such as the President, the Vice President or the Prime Minister are present, only accredited journalists are allowed to report from the premises. 
    • Accreditation ensures that a journalist is able to protect the identity of his or her sources. An accredited journalist does not have to disclose who he or she intends to meet when entering offices of union ministries, as the accreditation card is “valid for entry into buildings under MHA (Ministry of Home Affairs) security zone”.
    • Accreditation brings certain benefits for the journalist and his or her family, like being included in the Central Government Health Scheme, and some concessions on railway tickets.

    Constitutional Provisions related to Freedom of Press

    • Freedom of the press is implicit under Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution, which provides for the freedom of speech and expression under Part III (Fundamental Rights). However, Freedom of the press is also not absolute.
    • A law could impose only those restrictions on the exercise of this right, it faces certain restrictions under article 19(2), which is as follows:
      • Sovereignty and integrity of India, Security of the State, Friendly relations with foreign States, Public order, decency or morality or in Contempt of court, Defamation, Incitement to an offence.

    Have governments tried to put similar curbs earlier?

    • Several governments have tried, but have had to usually withdraw.
    • In 2018, during its first term, the NDA government introduced Fake News Guidelines, proposing that a journalist’s accreditation can be suspended and even permanently canceled, if media regulatory bodies adjudge that the journalist had propagated fake news. The order was withdrawn.
    • In 2017, the Rajasthan government brought in a Bill to protect state officials from “scurrilous and non-sustainable charges”. It entailed a jail term for a maximum of two years and a fine. The Bill was withdrawn.

    Source: IE