Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy is drawing all-round flak for his move to impose curbs on media by authorising officials to move the court against any media house for publishing any news with malafide intentions.
As per a decision taken by the cabinet on Tuesday, principal secretaries of all the departments were empowered to file cases against newspapers or television channels publishing or airing news pertaining to their respective departments with distortion or malafide intentions.
After the government order (GO) evoked an outcry from the journalists’ unions, civil society organisations and opposition parties, the YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) clarified that it has only decentralised the powers hitherto vested with the Commissioner of Information and Public Relations.
The government also made it clear that filing of cases will be the last resort. It said the process will start with issuing a rejoinder, ensuing that the correction is given the same prominence as the wrongly published/televised news was given, including the placement/time slot and has full clarity besides being properly sourced.
The Jagan Mohan Reddy government, which came under attack for suppressing the freedom of press, claimed that it is committed to uphold democratic norms.
It believes that there is imperative need for the flow of news pertaining to various government departments in an accurate manner without any ‘distortion, slant or prejudice’.
The clarification, however, failed to allay the apprehensions among the journalist community that the powers will be misused to target the media houses, especially those critical of the government or the ruling party.
In 2007, the then Chief Minister of undivided Andhra Pradesh Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy had issued the GO empowering the Commissioner, Information and Public Relations, to file cases against media houses spreading false news with malafide intentions.
“Rajasekhara Reddy had brought this GO after being in power for three years, but his son Jagan Mohan Reddy has invoked this in just five months. The language in the GO virtually forecloses any critical story or the ones differing with the government version,” political analyst and veteran journalist Telakapalli Ravi told IANS.
He pointed out that though YSR, as Rajasekhara Reddy was popularly known, issued the GO, he had kept it aside and even stated that it is not for use.
Slamming Jagan Mohan Reddy for muzzling the voice of dissent, leader of opposition and Telugu Desam Party (TDP) President N. Chandrababu Naidu even said that YSR was much better than Jagan.
Ravi recalled that Jagan had attacked the media at every meeting during his ‘padayatra’. “He mentioned some media houses in his address at the swearing-in, showing his anathema towards those critical of him,” Ravi said.
The analyst pointed out that invoking the GO is not the only move by Jagan to clamp down on media. He said the government unofficially banned two television channels seen to be critical of the government.
The Jagan government allegedly coerced cable operators to stop telecasting ABN and TV5 news channels. It even faced allegations of defying the Telecom Dispute Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT), which had ordered restoration of telecast of these channels.
Jagan himself owns Telugu newspaper and news channel ‘Sakshi’, which is seen as the mouthpiece of the YSRCP government. TDP leaders have alleged that the unofficial ban on ABN and TV5 was also to help ‘Sakshi’.
“There is no doubt that the media is not above criticism as it is highly polarised. Complaints can be filed against them, but threatening them with cases or stopping channels can never be tolerated, especially when such moves are questioned even in the present day Kashmir,” said Ravi.
The analyst wants Jagan to remember that YSR never used the GO while former Chief Minister N.T. Rama Rao too had burnt his fingers while trying to impose curbs on media.
“There are many national precedents as well. It is better that Jagan withdraws the move on his own,” he added.