India: IJU Concerns Over Govt Censorship Attempt02 Apr, 2020
The Indian Journalists Union expresses grave concern over attempts by the Union government to resort to backdoor censorship of media covering COVID-19 by urging the Supreme Court to issue direction “to prevent fake and inaccurate reporting, whether intended or not, either by electronic print or social medial which will cause panic in the society.” The government’s justification that “the exodus of migrant labourers was triggered due to panic created by some fake/misleading news and social media,” said the IJU, is pathetic and simply unacceptable. Rather, it was thanks to the media that misery of thousands of migrants came under the spotlight, putting the government in a spot and scrambling for a plan for their survival.
At the same time, in a statement, IJU President Geetartha Pathak and Secretary General and IFJ Vice President Sabina Inderjit hailed the order of the Supreme Court on the count that it refrained from “interfering with the free discussion about the pandemic.” At best, it has directed the media “to refer to and publish the official version about the developments.” The apex court observed: “We expect Media (print, electronic or social) to maintain a strong sense of responsibility and ensure that unverified news capable of causing panic is not disseminated. A daily bulletin by the Government of India through all media avenues including social media and forums to clear the doubts of people would be made active within a period of 24 hours as submitted by the Solicitor General of India.”
The orders came with regard to a PIL filed for redressal of grievances of migrant labourers in different parts of the country, wherein thousands along with their families were walking hundreds of kilometres from their work place to their villages/towns. The IJU said the media is aware of its duties and journalists have been covering the pandemic with utmost responsibility, even at risk to their health and the Government must appreciate this fact and keep it well-informed with facts.
The Government through a hurried lockdown, said the IJU, was obviously unconcerned about the devastating impact it would have on the daily and migrant workers and it is what led to the panic. For the government to pass on the blame to the media is unfair, said the IJU. Further, while appreciating the government aiding the media through its daily bulletins, the IJU said it will still be the duty of the media to verify and doubly check the said information provided.
The IJU also urged the government to ensure that its appeal/orders to industry not to lay off workers should also apply to the media sector, which is seeing laying-off of staff and journalists. Equally important, the Government must also consider providing insurance coverage to media persons who are covering COVID-19 at the risk of their health and well-being.