Press bodies pass resolution against laws curtailing media freedom

New Delhi, June 14 (UNI): After a consultative meeting with India’s leading press bodies and digital rights organisations on May 28, a resolution demanding the new government helmed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to roll back or repeal provisions of various new laws that infringe press freedom was passed, the Press Club of India said on Friday.

“We have also urged the government to put in place an institutional mechanism for stakeholders consultation before any future media laws are drafted so that press freedom is not curtailed,” President of Press Club of India Gautam Lahiri said.


Passing a resolution demanding the government to withdraw laws that are aimed at curbing the freedom of the press, the press bodies expressed concerns over the proposed Broadcast Services (Regulation) Bill, 2023, the Digital Personal Data Protection Act, 2023, the Press and Registration of Periodicals Act, 2023, and the Information Technology Amendment Rules, 2023, which allow the government to remove any online content it deems false or misleading.

“Noting that there are apprehensions of control and regulation and may place unreasonable restrictions on the citizens’ right to know,” the press bodies in the meeting recommended that the government ensure that the right to know of the people is not trampled upon.

“The practice of repeated Internet shutdowns impedes both the citizens’ right to information and journalists’ ability to report news” the statement said.

They also noted that the press in the country must stand up for its rights granted under Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution so that it continues to act as an important pillar of our vibrant and inclusive democracy.

Additionally, the meeting addressed concerns about the Digital Personal Data Protection Act, 2023, which aims to protect data from unauthorised access. However, amendments to Section 8(1)(j) of the Right to Information Act, 2005, aligning it with Section 44(3) of the Digital Personal Data Protection Act, 2023, were seen as curtailing the RTI, a vital tool for journalists. The meeting demanded the deletion or amendment of all provisions in the Digital Personal Data Act, 2023, that weaken the Right to Information Act, 2005.

The resolution also called for replacing the Press Council of India with a Media Council that includes broadcast and digital media. This Media Council should comprise working journalists, union representatives, owners, and the government, empowered to deal with challenges from a constantly changing media landscape.

It should be empowered to pass strictures on media houses, publications, broadcast and digitally published content and owners and take other such measures, the statement read.

Furthermore, the meeting expressed concern over the move to repeal the Working Journalist Act and Other Newspaper Employees (Condition of Service) and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1955, and the Working Journalists (Fixation of Rates of Wages) Act, 1958. These acts, covering issues such as wages, working hours, leave, holidays, termination of employment, grievance redressal, and mandated Wage Boards, have been subsumed by the Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions (OSH) Code, 2020.

The meeting demanded the restoration and amendment of the two Working Journalists Acts to include broadcast journalists and digital media.

Recognizing the rise of internet users to 850 million in the country, the meeting appreciated the need for a modern legal framework for protecting personal data, freedom of expression, and a quick and easily accessible grievance redressal mechanism. The government’s intent to introduce the Digital India Act, replacing the Information Technology Act, 2000, was noted, and the meeting demanded a clear articulation of perceived harms and benefits to internet users in India.

They also demanded the government clarify where the current legislative framework falls short, especially since we are reforming the criminal justice system laws with legislations that were passed after 146 opposition MPs were suspended.

The government must state clearly whether state intervention required to protect the people of India should take the form of new laws or better redressal mechanisms or improvement of state capacity or a combination of these and other aspects, the statement said.

The meeting emphasised that proposed future laws should not impede press freedom while upholding citizens’ right to privacy. The existing laws and future legislation should not be leveraged to block or takedown legitimate news content across platforms viz. print, television and the internet. It was resolved to urge the government to ensure that all stakeholders are included through institutional processes for wide consultation when preparing the working draft of the proposed Digital India Bill.

This meeting resolves that press bodies will continue to seek remedial measures collectively or individually, including legal remedies, the statement added.

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