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Press Council of India has filed an application in the Supreme Court seeking intervention in the petition filed by Kashmir Times executive editor Anuradha Bhasin, which prays for relaxation of communication restrictions in Kashmir.
Interestingly, while the object of PCI is to preserve the freedom of the press, the PCI in its application in fact states that the communication blackout is in the interest of the integrity and sovereignty of the nation.
The intervention application takes a grim view of the fact that the petitioner in her application has not mentioned anything about the abrogation of Article 370 which has led to the restrictions on communication in Kashmir. The application reads:
“..there is no mention in the entire writ petition about abrogation of the most contentious provision of the Constitution of India by the Parliament which has caused restrictions on communication facilities and other facilities in the interest of the integrity and sovereignty of the nation.”
The application goes on to state that clause 23 of the Norms of Journalistic conduct framed by the Press Council provides for self-regulation of journalists in the matter of “paramount national, social or individual interests”.
Since the petition by Bhasin concerns the rights of journalists/ media for free and fair reporting on one hand and national interest on the other hand, the Press Council should be allowed to present its views before the Court to assist it in deciding the case, the application states.
The plea moved by Anuradha Bhasin, Executive Editor of the Kashmir Times newspaper highlights that the shutdown of internet and telecommunication, the severe restrictions on mobility and the sweeping curtailment on information sharing, at a time when significant political and constitutional changes are being forged by the Parliament to the status of Jammu and Kashmir, violate the freedom of speech and expression under Article 19, the right of the public to information and the right to practice one’s profession.
The petition states that the information blackout set in motion is a direct and grave violation of the right of the people to know about the decisions that directly impact their lives and their future. The internet and telecommunication shutdown also means that the media cannot report on the aforesaid developments, and the residents of Kashmir thus do not get access to information that is otherwise publicly available to the rest of India.
The petitioner has also informed that Due to the severe restrictions imposed by the Central government, the Petitioner’s newspaper, Kashmir Times, Srinagar edition, could not be distributed and circulated.
The petitioner has, therefore, prayed for quashing all orders, notifications, directions and/or circulars issued to shutdown/suspend communication, including Internet, mobile and fixed-line telecommunication services in Jammu and Kashmir as unconstitutional.
It has also sought a direction to the Central Government to immediately restore all modes of communication including mobile, internet and landline services throughout Jammu and Kashmir in order to provide an enabling environment for the media to practice its profession.
Further, the petitioner has also prayed for taking steps to ensure free and safe movement of reporters, journalists and other media personnel.
Interestingly, while the application by Press Council claims that there is no mention of abrogation of Article 370 in the petition by Anuradha Bhasin, the petition in fact claims at page 18 that the communication shutdown has resulted in people of Kashmir being in the dark about abrogation of article 370 and reorganisation of the State into Union Territory.
[Read Intervention Application]
[Read Anuradha Bhasin’s petition]