A multi-pronged attack on the media is underway, says Press Club of India chief

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A multi-pronged attack on the press is currently underway and a concerted effort is being made to portray the media as dangerous to society, Press Club of India chairman Umakant Lakhera said on Monday.

He made the statement at a meeting in Delhi on “the rampant attack on media freedom and the attack on the personal freedom of journalists”. The meeting was organized by the Press Club of India along with the Editors Guild of India, Indian Women’s Press Corps, Press Association, Delhi Union of Working Journalists, Digipub News India Foundation and Working News Cameramen’s Association.

Lakhera said the current era is the most dangerous for journalism and journalists. “An emergency has not been declared, but all its characteristics are visible,” he added.

Siddharth Varadarajan, the founding editor of Thread, said the country is in the midst of a large-scale attack on media freedom. “In the future, the practice of resorting to illegal procedure will only grow, as seen in [Alt News co-founder] the Mohammed Zubair case,” he said.

Delhi police booked Zubair for allegedly hurting religious feelings, causing evidence to disappear, violating foreign funding standards and participating in a criminal conspiracy. Several media outlets criticized his arrest and called for his unconditional release.

At Monday’s meeting, Varadarajan said fake news had been fabricated ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, and noted that this had now been “turned on an industrial scale”.

“The reason why fact-checking is a vulnerable profession in India, the reason why New Alternatives is targeted, it is because they have become a big obstacle to the government’s attempt to shape public opinion,” Varadarajan said. He added that a trend had emerged of targeting Muslim journalists.

Meanwhile, TN Ninan, chairman of Business Standard Private Limited, has suggested the creation of a legal defense fund for journalists.

“Zubair’s arrest based on false charges”

In a resolution adopted at the meeting, organizers said a “plethora of FIRs” against journalists and raids by the Law Enforcement Directorate on media offices “send a disturbing signal” for the future of the profession as a whole.

“The arrest of the co-founder of Alt News based on what we understand is based on exaggerated and fabricated charges,” he said. “On the other hand, those who make hate speech roam free.”

The resolution also said that the Central Press Accreditation Committee’s new guidelines on accreditation to the Press Information Office and the denial of accreditation to more than 300 journalists were worrying developments.

Under new guidelines notified in February, journalists can lose their accreditation if they act in a manner “prejudicial to the sovereignty and integrity of India”. Accreditation can also be suspended or revoked if a person acts contrary to “decency or morality” or due to cases of contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.

Accreditation with the Press Information Office grants journalists access to government offices in Delhi. Accreditation is also required to cover certain events attended by the Prime Minister and the President.

“We call on the government to restore media access to coverage of government events as before in the interest of strong democracy,” the Press Club of India’s resolution said on Monday. “We also reaffirm that the Constitution is supreme and applies to everyone. The selection of cherries by law enforcement sends a chilling effect to the media as a whole.

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