The Directorate of Advertising and Visual Publicity (DAVP) under the Information and Broadcasting Ministry, has decided to arrogate to itself the power to suspend a publication for anti-national activities, which was vested in the Press Council of India or the concerned courts.
In the new policy, which was effected in June this year, Clause 25, says: A newspaper may be suspended from empanelment by DG, DAVP with immediate effect if, among other things, it had indulged in unethical practices as found by the Press Council of India or indulged in anti-national activities.
This proviso along with others, prompted the Press Council of India chairperson Chandramouli Kumar Prasad to convene an Extraordinary Meeting on August 22, where suggestions were offered to temper the powers of the Government. The Council also recommended that the government take no coercive step in this matter until its recommendations were considered carefully.
As the DAVP is the nodal agency of the Government of India for advertising on behalf of various Ministries, Departments and PSUs which are funded by the government, it wields considerable clout specially with small and medium newspapers for whom these advertisements are a lifeline.
Speaking to The Hindu , Mr Prasad, said, “The old rule states that this was not a discretionary power of the Government of India. It is our mandate to secure the freedom of the press. Besides, the courts will not accept this.”
“Our suggestions are not binding on the Government, yet we are a statutory body and our suggestions have a persuasive value,” he clarified.
The Council at its meeting has proposed the following changes: Indulged in unethical practices or anti-national activities, as found by the Press Council of India, or convicted by a court of law for such activities.
A Press Information Bureau release on June 10 had hailed the policy as transparent and equitable in ushering in a new system to incentivise newspapersand ensure equity in release of government advertisements. Yet, the proposed changes have alarmed the Council. “We chose to call the meeting after receiving representations from the media,” Mr Prasad said.
Andhra Union of Journalists representative Amarnath Kosury said, “We were concerned that the power to suspend a publication was vested with a bureaucrat.”