When Prime Minister Narendra Modi is trying his best to ensure that every corner of India is digitally empowered, surprisingly the BJP-led government in Assam is all out to “gag” the digital media.
Despite several challenges, when the digital media in Assam had just started to grow, the Department of Information and Public Relations (DIPR) of Assam has outrightly denied accreditation to the digital journalists.
Accreditation or recognition by the DIPR is important for every journalist in Assam. Entry to the state secretariat and access to other high-security zones are denied without the accreditation card issued by the state government.
The Assam State Press Accreditation Committee on September 20 cleared 160 names of journalists for recognition/accreditation. The meeting was presided over by Kumar Sanjay Krishna, Additional Chief Secretary, and the Chairperson of the Committee.
Unfortunately, not a single digital media journalist was granted accreditation by the Assam government. Now, without the press accreditation cards, mobility of the digital journalists will be restricted in the corridors of power.
Though the Assam government did not make any official statement on the issue of denying accreditation to the digital media, the Director of the Information and Public Relations, Rajib Prakash Baruah said the committee acted as per the law.
Shockingly, the DIPR is still clinging on to the archaic Assam Press Correspondents (Accreditation/ Recognition) Rules, 1989, which does not talk anything about electronic and the digital media.
Though the rule is silent on electronic media, the committee decided to grant accreditation to the electronic media, especially the journalists working with the satellite television channels. But, the digital journalists were excluded citing the rules laid down in the rules framed in 1989.
In addition to that, as the Autumn Session of the Assam State Assembly began on September 24, digital media journalists were denied entry to cover the proceedings of the assembly.
The twin episodes of denying accreditation to digital media journalist and banning entry to the state assembly is surprising in Assam because Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal has always been echoing PM Modi’s view on Digital India.
Sonowal on March 28 had announced that the Information department in Assam would be restructured and a new directorate for digital media will be created. The CM had ordered restructuring of the Information department in tune with changing trends of mass media to make it more productive.
The Chief Minister, who also holds the information portfolio in Assam, had also ordered immediate steps for early finalisation of the new State Advertisement Policy.
It is surprising as to why neither the new digital directorate nor the new advertisement policy is in place even after six months of the Chief Minister’s order.
Is it because of the lackadaisical attitude of the incumbent Director of Information and Public Relations, Rajib Prakash Baruah that Sonowal’s both the orders have not been executed in last six months?
Or, is the delay a tactical move, and is connected to the Baruah’s prayers for extension of his services? As per official records, he is scheduled to retire on September 30. Rajib Prakash Baruah is very close to Hrishikesh Goswami, the Media Adviser to Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal.
Goswami is also the Secretary of Harendra Nath Baruah Trust. The Director for Information and Public Relations is the son of Harendra Nath Baruah.