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PCI seeks reply from Andhra over media gag order

Amaravati : Expressing grave concern over the media gag order issued by Andhra Pradesh, the Press Council of India (PCI) has sought a reply from the state government.

The PCI took suo-motu cognizance of the order issued by the Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy government on October 30, empowering the secretaries of respective departments to sue the media houses for false, baseless and defamatory news stories.

PCI chairman Chandramauli Kumar Prasad directed the government through its Chief Secretary and special commissioner (information and public relations) to file a reply.

“The chairman is of the view that the threat to prosecute media personnel in general shall demoralize the journalists in large which shall have severe bearing on the freedom of the press. Not only this, the problems which the order in question seek to redress can very well be remedied by the Council itself,” a release from the PCI said.

The PCI’s action comes amid protests by the journalists’ bodies and opposition parties, which have termed the controversial order an attack on the freedom of the press.

The order empowers department secretaries to issue rejoinders and sue the media houses, including social media, for false, baseless and defamatory stories and posts.

The government has denied that the order was issued to gag the media. Minister for information and public relations Perni Venkataramaiah clarified that legal action will be the last option. He said if any section of the press makes baseless statements against a department in the government, the department head has to give a factual rejoinder. The newspaper or the TV channel has to disclose the rejoinder to the people. In case the newspaper or the TV channel does not disclose the rejoinder, the government would issue a legal notice and go to the court on the issue, he added.

“What is wrong in this and where was the government muzzling the freedom of the press. What the government wants is that the media should have proof when it is making allegations and they should not be baseless,” he said.

Senior journalists, K. Ramachandra Murthy and Devulapalli Amar, who recently took up government assignments as adviser on public policy and national media adviser respectively, also defended the government’s move.

Murthy said that previously, the Commissioner of Information and Public Relations had the authority to go to court, on behalf of the respective departments but now special powers have been given to the top officials of the respective departments.

Amar also stated that the state government decision was right.