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Press Council of India applies to intervene in J&K petition against communications restriction: report

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The Press Council of India has moved the Supreme Court stating that restrictions on communications facilities in Jammu & Kashmir now in its fourth week was in the “interest of security and sovereignty of the nation”, per the Indian Express. The PCI has applied to be impleaded as an intervener in the petition filed by Kashmir Times executive editor Anuradha Bhasin in the SC. Bhasin has demanded that the communications blackout be lifted.

The council has stated that it should be heard since the case concerns the “rights of journalists and media for free and fair reporting on one hand, and national interest of integrity and sovereignty on the other hand”. The council has said that “very aptly, there is no mention in the entire Writ Petition about abrogation of most contentions provision of the Constitution by Parliament, which has caused the restrictions on communication facilities and other facilities in the interest of security and sovereignty of the nation”.

The application also stated that PCI framed Norms of Journalistic Conduct, and that clause 23 of the Norms “prescribes for self-regulation in reporting by journalists in matter of paramount national, social or individual interests…”

PCI also referred to the duties of the council as laid down in the Press Council of India Act, and said it’s evident from the provisions that “applicant is duty bound not only to ensure the freedom of press, but also to ensure on the part of newspapers, news agencies and journalists, the maintenance of high standards of public taste and foster a due sense of both rights and responsibilities of citizenship and to keep under review any development likely to restrict the supply and dissemination of news of public interest and importance”.

Disagreements over intervention among PCI members

Meanwhile, Press Council member Jaishankar Gupta told the Indian Express that the decision “arbitrary” and said “the Press Council is not one person, but an institution” and that it cannot become a “tool of the government”. Another member told the publication that the impleadment was not in the agenda papers, and PCI chairman did not even inform the members informally. There was no discussion regarding the petition in a PCI meeting held on August 22, said the member.

Bhasin’s petition demanded relaxation of communications blackout

Anuradha Bhasin petitioned the Supreme Court earlier this month, seeking direction to the Centre and officials of Jammu & Kashmir, to immediately relax restrictions on internet, mobile, landline services in Kashmir and parts of Jammu. It also asks for restrictions on free movement of journalists and media persons to be relaxed. These restrictions have led to a “virtual blackout” and has disabled media, says the petition.

Bhasin’s petition also stated among other things that the communications blackout disabled reporters from giving news inputs for print; the State has trampled over press freedoms in an “arbitrary, unreasonable, and constitutes an abuse of State power”, argues Bhasin’s petition. Even online news websites and portals have not been able to carry out reporting, it says. The blockade has caused financial and opportunity lost for Bhasin, says the petition, as Kashmir Times could not be published.

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