The Indian government has recently laid out new rules for journalists known as the
CENTRAL MEDIA ACCREDITION GUIDELINES where the government has specified a
code of conduct for the journalists, which, if is not followed, the journalists shall lose their accreditation. A Central Press Accreditation Committee, chaired by the DG, PIB, reviews accreditation applications. The country now has 2,457 PIB-accredited journalists.
The Central Media Accreditation Guidelines-2022 outlined the conditions for a journalist's accreditation to be revoked if they act in a way that jeopardises the country's security, sovereignty, and integrity, friendly relations with foreign states, or public order, or if they are charged with a serious cognisable crime. The majority of the regulations are based on Article 19(2) of the Constitution, which establishes the limits on free speech.
The previous policy, which was published in 2013, specified that accreditation "must be withdrawn as soon as the conditions under which it was granted cease to exist." If accreditation is determined to have been abused, it may be revoked or suspended." They operate more as censorship regulations than guidelines with the new policy, which lays out the circumstances for accreditation removal. Previous standards were more generic in scope; however, they did state that if accreditation was found to be misused, it would be revoked.
According to the recommendations, the Indian government would form a commission named the Central Media Accreditation Committee, which will be chaired by the Principal DG of the Press Information Bureau (PIB).
This committee, which will be made up of up to 25 members appointed by the government, shall interpret the guidelines for accreditation withdrawal.
PROVISIONS TO SUSPEND ACCREDITATIONS
If a journalist acts in a way that jeopardises the country's security, sovereignty, and integrity, cordial relations with foreign states, or public order, or if he or she is charged with a severe crime. If your acts are against decency or morality, or if they involve contempt of court, slander, or incitement to commit a crime.
The use of the terms "Accredited to the Government of India" on public/social media profiles, visiting cards, letterheads, or any other form of published work has been restricted for accredited media persons.
PROVISIONS TO GRANT ACRREDITATION
Only journalists residing in the Delhi NCR region are eligible for accreditation. There are numerous classifications available.
To be eligible, a journalist must have at least five years of experience as a full-time working journalist or cameraperson in a news organisation, or 15 years as a freelancer.
Veteran journalists with more than 30 years of experience and a minimum age of 65 are also eligible.
A daily circulation of 10,000 for a newspaper or magazine is required, and news agencies must have a minimum of 100 subscribers. Foreign news organisations and journalists are subject to the same restrictions.
Journalists who work for digital news platforms are also eligible, as long as the website has at least 10 lakh monthly unique visitors.
Freelance journalists working for international news organisations will not be granted credentials.
BENEFITS OF ACCREDITATION
Allow Accredited Journalists Access to Major Events: Only accredited journalists are permitted to cover major events when VVIPs or dignitaries such as the President, Vice President, or Prime Minister are present.
Second, accreditation assures that a journalist can keep his or her sources' identities hidden.
Because the accreditation card is "authorised for admission into buildings under MHA (Ministry of Home Affairs) security zone," an accredited journalist does not have to reveal who he or she plans to meet when visiting union ministries' offices.
Journalist Privileges: Accreditation provides various benefits to the journalist and his or her family, such as inclusion in the Central Government Health Scheme and train ticket discounts.
WILL THE GUIDELINES BE APPLICABLE TO DIGITAL NEWS PUBLISHERS?
The general accreditation terms would apply to digital news publishers. News aggregators will also be excluded from consideration.
According to Rule 18 of the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code), Rules, 2021, digital news publishers who are asking for accreditation should have provided the required information to the "Ministry of Information & Broadcasting."
FREEDOM OF PRESS ACCORDING TO THE CONSTITUTION
Article 19, which deals with Protection of certain rights relating freedom of speech, etc., in the Indian Constitution ensures freedom of speech and expression.
The Indian legal system does not explicitly safeguard journalistic freedom, although it is impliedly protected by the constitution's article 19(1) (a).
Press freedom, on the other hand, does not exist in its purest form.
A law could only impose those restrictions on the use of this right that are listed in article 19(2): Indian sovereignty and integrity, State security, Friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality, Contempt of court, Defamation, Incitement to a crime.
PREVIOUS ATTEMPTS TO REGULATE THE MEDIA
Defamation Before the introduction of private news networks, the most prominent proposal to restrict the press was the Bill of 1988. The Bill was dropped under the pressure of a united media and numerous sections of the public.
Under pressure and criticism, state governments such as Kerala and Rajasthan issued their own versions of the rules, which were later rescinded.
In 2018, the PIB (under the I&B Ministry) proposed Fake News Guidelines, under which a journalist's accreditation may be revoked if they were found to be peddling false information. Under duress, the order was revoked.
Recently, the government suggested a set of laws under the Information Technology Act to regulate digital news material.
CRITICISM OF THE CMA 2022 GUIDELINES
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) rated India 142nd out of 180 nations in the World Press Freedom Index 2020, indicating a decline in press freedom.
Against the freedom of the press as a constitutional right: The guidelines have the potential to obstruct the operation of a free press.
Despite the fact that freedom of the press is not directly specified in the Constitution, the scope of freedom of expression under Article 19 has been widely understood as laying the groundwork for a free press in the country, with later court rulings ensuring it.
Ones critical of the government, particularly investigative reports, may now be considered as harmful to the country's interests, and it will be up to the Central Media Accreditation Committee to interpret and judge what constitutes defamation when withholding accreditation to a journalist.
This article is written by Mohd Saqib Husain of Lloyd Law College.