Media asked not to publish statements of militant groups Guiding principles of PCI


Arising out of a complaint against publication of some ULFA handouts/threat notes by a newspaper of Assam, the Press Council has enunciated some general principles for the guidance of the press.
These are in tune with the recommendations of the Press Council of India Report on Punjab and Jammu & Kashmir, adopted by the Press Council in January, 1991.
These guiding principles considered by the Council in September 1992, are as follows:
Dictates or “Press Notes” commanding newspapers to publish them, under duress or threats of dire consequence, emanating from elements wedded to violence, constitute “the gravest assault on the freedom of the Press which is one of the surest guarantors of a democratic and plural society”. Generally, such dictates or Notes are not newsworthy per se. Their publication tends to demoralise the public and to affect adversely public, police and security. The publication not only compromises the freedom and independence of the newspaper concerned, but also constitutes an offence against the standards of journalistic ethics and professional responsibility.
This is not to say that if there is anything newsworthy in a ‘Press Note’ emanating from any source, it should be blacked-out altogether, because “self-censorship” may be “no less dangerous for being insidious”. The essential point is that editors must exercise due caution and circumspection in considering the dissemination of such Press Notes. If the whole of the Note is not pernicious, then it may be edited, its objectionable portions removed and language toned down so that whatever is true newsworthy gets disseminated in a balanced manner. However, where the “news” and the objectionable portions are inextricably mixed up, violating the entire warp and woof of the “Press Note” it will be prudent to withhold its publication altogether.
This is not an easy way out, as the media’s experience of militancy in Punjab has amply demonstrated. More than 50 media personnel have lost their lives in terrorist attacks and ignoring a militant press note can lead and has often led, to death of innocent and defenceless media persons. Any show of editorial defence and courage is likely to be seen by defenceless employees of newspapers as exposing them to avoidable dangers. Editors and proprietors under these circumstances have little room for manoeuvres.
A workable expedient that proved useful in Punjab, is for the Government to be in close touch with newspapers so that objectionable and anti-National press notes from groups swearing by violence could be removed from newspapers before publication. Even though this may be seen as a form of pre-censorship, this arrangement saved lives and spared newspapers from difficult and delicate choices.
There is however a danger of a wilful administration using this process to muzzle the press and misuse its authority under the law to define “objectionable material” on its own terms. Strict procedures must therefore be laid down. Orders passed under any legislation in this regard from time to time in relation to publication of allegedly “objectionable matter” should be subjected to some kind of appellate review so as to curb any propensity to arbitrary action. The principal legislation and rules made thereunder should also be periodically reviewed in the light of changing circumstances. These safeguards should be built into all such press legislation.


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