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    Press Bodies Urge Center to Withdraw Laws ‘Aimed at Curbing Press Freedom’

    The Press Club of India has passed a resolution criticizing the sweeping provisions granted to the government that may allow it to censor the press. Published on June 14, the resolution was the result of a meeting held on May 28, urging the government to rescind laws that they believe are aimed at curbing the freedom of the press.

    The document is endorsed by several senior members of the news industry, including Gurbir Singh, Chairman of the Press Club of Mumbai; Balbir Singh Jhandu, Secretary of the Indian Journalist Union and Dhanya Rajendran, Chairperson of the DIGIPUB Foundation.

    Censorship Powers Granted To The Government:

    According to the letter, the Broadcasting Services (Regulation) Bill (2023), the Digital Personal Data Protection Act (DPDPA) (2023), the Press and Registration of Periodicals Act (2023), and the Information Technology Amendment Rules (2023) allow the government to silence the press by authorizing it to remove any digital content that it deems to be false or misleading.

    Specifically, the Broadcasting Services (Regulation) Bill (2023) brings digital content and OTT platforms under regulatory oversight, which raises concerns about control mechanisms and may infringe upon citizens’ right to know. “The government must 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 know and journalists’ ability to report news,” says the letter.

    It also points out that an amendment to sec 8(1)(j) of the Right to Information Act attempts to align it with sec 44(3) of the DPDPA, which curtails the RTI act and impedes journalists from investigating government functioning. The resolution demands that the government delete or amend all such provisions of the Digital Personal Data Act, 2023, intended to weaken the Right to Information Act, 2005.

    Restore Working Journalists Act:

    The resolution criticizes replacing the Working Journalists and other Newspaper Employees (Conditions of Service) and Miscellaneous Provisions Act and the Working Journalists (Fixation of Rates of Wages) Act with the Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions (OSH) Code, 2020. The two previous acts protected journalists and covered a wide range of issues, including wages, working hours, leave, holidays, termination of employment, redressal of grievances, and mandating Wage Boards to fix the wages of journalists. The letter demands that these two acts be restored immediately.

    Form The Media Council:

    The Press Council of India should be replaced by a “Media Council” which shall cover broadcast and digital media, demands the Press Club resolution. It should involve working journalists, representatives of unions, owners, and the government, being empowered to pass strictures on media houses, publications, broadcast and digitally published content and taking other such measures.

    Consult All Stakeholders For the Digital India Bill:

    The Government of India has notified its intention to pass a Digital India Bill, supposed to replace the Information Technology Act of 2000, to meet the challenges of the present digital age. The meeting asks the government to consult all stakeholders and their views when preparing the draft. It also asks the government to clearly articulate what it perceives as harms and benefits to Indians on the Internet and clearly define an “Open, Safe, Trusted and Accountable Internet.”

    Additionally, the resolution asks the government to consider carefully whether state intervention should be done through new laws, better state capacity redressal mechanisms, or a combination of these and other aspects. It refers to the recent reformation of the criminal justice laws, which occurred while 146 opposition MPs were suspended. 

    “The government will have to ensure that proposed future laws do not impede press freedom while upholding citizens’ right to privacy. The existing laws and future legislations should not be leveraged to block or takedown legitimate news content across platforms viz. print, television, and internet,” declares the resolution.

    Also Read:

    The post Press Bodies Urge Center to Withdraw Laws ‘Aimed at Curbing Press Freedom’ appeared first on MEDIANAMA.

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