NEW DELHI — Days after The Hindu and journalist organisations like the Press Association and Indian Women’s Press Corps criticised the Press Council of India (PCI) “for support of the government’s restrictions on communication” in Kashmir, PCI chairperson Justice Chandramauli Prasad (retd) told HuffPost India that the council’s position had been misconstrued.
The criticism stemmed in response to an Intervention Application filed before the Supreme Court by the PCI in the matter of a Writ Petition filed by Anuradha Bhasin, executive editor of Kashmir Times, against the ongoing communication blackout in the valley.
“My stand is very, very clear,” Justice Prasad said. “It’s my stand that the Council stands by the freedom of the press and does not approve any sort of restrictions on the media, but when it comes to the issue of national interest, that issue needs to be decided by the court.”
“Justice Prasad made clear, that in his personal view, “No matter how liberal one is, it has to be faced — the fact that some news is best not reported.””
In the same interview, however, Justice Prasad made clear, that in his personal view, “No matter how liberal one is, it has to be faced — the fact that some news is best not reported.”
Justice Prasad abruptly ended the interview soon after, insisting that he did not want to talk to the press about this issue after all.
The Kashmir Times petition, filed in the Supreme Court by its editor Anuradha Bhasin, sought the restoration of all modes of communication including mobile, internet and landline services throughout Jammu and Kashmir “in order to provide an enabling environment for the media to practise its profession”.
In its Intervention Application, the PCI said that restrictions on communication facilities in Jammu and Kashmir have been imposed “in the interest of the integrity and sovereignty of the nation”.
In his on-record interview with HuffPost India, Justice Prasad said the PCI’s position had been misunderstood.
“Actually, this is being misread. Fact of the matter is that there is abrogation of 370, there is no doubt about it,” he said. “And there is no doubt about the fact that there is no restriction on media per se. There are general restrictions on communication.”
“And what’s the plea of the Union of India? The plea of the Union of India is that it is in the national interest,” Justice Prasad continued. “Therefore, at one point of time, it’s the freedom of the press vis-a-vis the national interest that’s the issue. I am not saying which one is to prevail, which one is not to prevail. But surely this is an issue before the court.”
When asked why he felt the PCI should intervene in the Writ Petition at all, Justice C K Prasad explained, “First, we must understand what is the issue. What is stated in the intervention application is the issue. Is it not the issue before the court? Therefore we want that, for a just decision, we be heard. It’s not that we have taken a stand.”
When asked how the PCI would help the court take a “just” decision, Justice Prasad said, “It will all depend on what stand the government takes. Issue is public interest, national interest and freedom of the press. I think anybody disputes that? I don’t know anybody who disputes that. Anyway, that’s all I have to say.”
Earlier during the interview, Justice Prasad read out a portion of a public speech he had previously given to make clear his personal position on press freedom.
““Media practitioners constantly endeavour to expand the boundaries of their freedom, just as those imbued with the authority attempt to constrict the space available for free speech...No matter how liberal one is, it has to be faced the fact that some news is best not reported,” Justice Prasad said.”
“Media practitioners constantly endeavour to expand the boundaries of their freedom, just as those imbued with the authority attempt to constrict the space available for free speech. It is an unending debate often guided by special circumstances that might prevail in the country or in the particular region. No matter how liberal one is, it has to be faced the fact that some news is best not reported,” Justice Prasad said.
The PCI’s intervention in the Kashmir Times petition has sparked angry rejoinders from wide sections of the press, including the PCI’s own members who said they were not consulted before the intervention petition was filed.
The Hindu criticised the PCI application in an editorial that said, “The PCI must play its mandated role and not kowtow to the government of the day.” Meanwhile, the Indian Women’s Press Corps and the Press Association described the PCI’s move to approach the Supreme Court as a “unilateral action”.
The Print has a useful summary of previous occasions in which Justice Prasad has supported restrictions on the press.