Walk­out in Ker­ala assem­bly over me­dia gag

A re­cent or­der di­rects re­porters to seek per­mis­sion from the pub­lic re­la­tions depart­ment to ask ques­tions to min­is­ters and VIPS in pub­lic places and in­ter­views


TRIVANDRUM: The Con­gressled op­po­si­tion staged a walk­out in the Ker­ala Assem­bly on Thurs­day af­ter the state’s com­mu­nist-run Gov­ern­ment Jus­ti­fied Curbs It Im­posed on me­dia.

A re­cent or­der di­rects re­porters to seek per­mis­sion from the pub­lic re­la­tions depart­ment to ask ques­tions to min­is­ters and VIPS in pub­lic places and in­ter­views.

It also im­poses re­stric­tions on jour­nal­ists en­ter­ing the Sec­re­tar­iat, THE seat of power Hous­ing ofices of the chief minister, Pi­narayi Vi­jayan, and other min­is­ters.

For­mer in­for­ma­tion minister KC Joseph, who sought a de­bate on the is­sue, also de­scribed it as an at­tempt to keep a tab on his min­is­ters and op­po­si­tion lead­ers.

Re­ply­ing on be­half of the chief minister, in­dus­tries minister EP JAYARAJAN Jus­ti­fied THE Cir­cu­lar Is­sued by the home sec­re­tary, say­ing it was for bet­ter dis­sem­i­na­tion.

He re­minded the Congress leg­is­la­tor that Vi­jayan had promised to rec­tify any mis­take in the cir­cu­lar if re­quired when he brought it as a sub­mis­sion ear­lier.

It was for the sec­ond time the op­po­si­tion raising the is­sue in the House, ear­lier through a sub­mis­sion to which Vi­jayan promised to have a relook, but he did not.

“Our only aim is to en­sure re­spon­si­ble jour­nal­ism and ac­cu­rate re­port­ing,” he said. “We are ready to rec­tify if there’s an er­ror in the cir­cu­lar.” How­ever, the op­po­si­tion, not sat­is­fied with the ex­pla­na­tion, listed a se­ries of at­tacks on the me­dia by the chief minister since he came to power in mid-2016.

They ac­cused Vi­jayan of be­ing a ‘clone’ of Prime Minister Naren­dra Modi in keep­ing away jour­nal­ists and im­pos­ing re­stric­tions on in­de­pen­dent me­dia.

“HE irst stopped Cus­tom­ary post­cab­i­net BRIEFING WHICH was A PRAC­TICE since 1957 (when the state formed),” said Ramesh Chen­nithala, the op­po­si­tion loor LEADER.

“Then he shouted ‘get out’ at jour­nal­ists (cover­ing peace talks af­ter a se­ries of po­lit­i­cal killings). He’s at­tack­ing free and fair jour­nal­ism in a typ­i­cal com­mu­nist style. I just wanted to re­mind you this is a democ­racy.”

The Congress leader re­minded the rul­ing Com­mu­nist Party of In­dia (Marx­ist) or CPM of their joint protests against sim­i­lar moves in Gu­jarat and Ra­jasthan, both ruled by Modi’s rightwing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

”He (Vi­jayan) rarely meets re­porters, and when he meets, he won’t al­low them to ask ques­tions. When they ask un­com­fort­able ques­tions, he scolds them,” he said.

“This cir­cu­lar is against the demo­cratic tra­di­tions of Ker­ala. When you curb the me­dia free­dom, you guil­lo­tine the democ­racy.” He read out ed­i­to­ri­als of prom­i­nent re­gional news­pa­pers con­demn­ing the gag and quoted In­dia’s irst PRIME Minister, JAWA­HAR­LAL Nehru, who “con­sid­ered free me­dia as an im­por­tant pil­lar of democ­racy.” He equated Vi­jayan’s be­hav­iour to Ronald Trump’s treat­ment of CNN’S White House cor­re­spon­dent Jim Acosta and Modi’s at­tempts to keep NDTV off the air.

He de­scribed the cir­cu­lar as “dra­co­nian.” The op­po­si­tion leg­is­la­tors shred­ded the cir­cu­lar and threw the pieces in the air be­fore the walk­out amidst shouts from the trea­sury benches.

“Where is he lead­ing us to, the Soviet era (of to­tal­i­tar­i­an­ism)?” asked the deputy leader Dr MK Muneer, be­fore lead­ing mem­bers of his In­dian Union Mus­lim League to walk out.

The jour­nal­ists’ unions also staged protest meet­ings across the state this week de­mand­ing the im­me­di­ate with­drawal of the “gag or­der.” But the gov­ern­ment is yet to re­spond.

Vi­jayan had re­stricted ac­cess to his OFICE to Both THE pub­lic AND Jour­nal­ists As soon As HE As­sumed OFICE In MID2016. He also shut the cam­eras that WEBCAST HIS OFICE AND CHAM­BER 24X7.

He rarely takes ques­tions from Jour­nal­ists AND HIS OFICE sup­plies state­ments, pho­to­graphs and video clips of his meet­ings on What­sapp.

Tight­en­ing the re­stric­tions the new guide­lines ask re­porters to ap­proach the in­for­ma­tion and pub­lic re­la­tions depart­ment (IPRD) for news and in­ter­views.

They can­not ap­proach the chief minister and his min­is­ters for ‘sound Bytes’ At SEC­RE­TAR­IAT, Gov­ern­ment ofices, rail­way sta­tions or air­ports.

The new or­der says that ac­cred­ited cor­re­spon­dents can en­ter the Sec­re­tar­iat while oth­ers will have to wait till the Sec­re­tar­iat opens for the gen­eral pub­lic in the evening.

The jour­nal­ists’ unions of Ker­ala de­mand the im­me­di­ate with­drawal of the ‘gag or­der’.

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