The Indian Journalists Union has cautioned Central and state governments from misusing the Disaster Management Act 2005 to gag press freedom and intimidate journalists.
Marking World Press Freedom Day on Sunday, the IJU said media persons are tirelessly working under extraordinary conditions to report on COVID-19 and must also be seen as frontline soldiers aiding the governments to meet the challenges of the pandemic.
Making a note of recent reported cases of harassment of journalists under the DMA and particularly its sections 51 and 54, the IJU said the nodal Ministry of Information & Broadcasting should issue an advisory to States to refrain from misusing the Act against journalists.
It pointed out that Andaman DGP had invoked these sections to arrest journalist Zubair Ahmed, accusing him of spreading fake news about the administration’s efforts to contain COVID-19 in the Islands.
The IJU has already condemned this and is further concerned about a journalist in UP Manish Pandey of a Hindi News channel being interrogated by the Special Task Force of the State’s police following him reporting on low-quality personal protective equipment kits supplied to hospitals and colleges in the State and another case in Chhattisgarh where a journalist has been served a show cause notice for reporting on the plight of a woman who had to sell her fridge to buy rations.
The notice by the SDM it is learnt denounces his reporting as ‘a punishable offence’ and threatens him with an FIR.
In a statement, IJU president and former member of Press Council of India and secretary general and IFJ vice president Sabina Inderjit said such actions are a direct attack on the freedom of press, unacceptable in any democratic society and shall impact the fight against COVID-19.
A responsible media reporting on shortcomings of government machineries is certainly not ‘fake news’ but should be viewed as assisting in correcting the lacunae in the delivery system as envisaged to lessen the impact of the lockdown, specially amongst the weaker sections of society.
The IJU said this past year has witnessed a concerted effort by the powers that be to silence critical reportage through various means including slapping of defamation cases and detaining journalists.
It reminded the government it should not lose sight of the fact that media acts as the public’s ears and eyes and attempts to silence it would only boomerang.
At the same time, the IJU joins the International Federation of Journalists Global Platform for Quality Journalism campaign which states:
- It is time to protect media, save jobs and support the most precarious workers.
- Information must never be confined.
- Information must remain a public good.