Freedom of Expression

‘Rajasthan Patrika’ Publishes Blank Edit Column to Protest Media Gag

The blank editorial, published on National Press Day, highlights the grave threat posed by state government’s ‘black law’ to journalism.

The blank editorial column in the Rajasthan Patrika on National Press Day.

New Delhi: Continuing its protest against the Vasundhara Raje-led BJP government in Rajasthan, Rajasthan Patrika, a leading Hindi daily in the state, left its editorial column – marked by a thick black border – blank, on Thursday. The blank space signalled the daily’s opposition to the controversial ordinance (now pending with a legislative committee) imposing restrictions on media and protecting public servants.

In the headline of the blank editorial column, Rajasthan Patrika’s Editor-in-chief Gulab Kothari, said that the government’s ‘black law’ poses a grave threat to journalism. “With this blank editorial, we studiously oppose the law which has murdered democracy,” he wrote.

The editorial staff of the edit page said the blank editorial’s thick black border conveys the paper’s resolve to oppose the ordinance and protect the freedom of press, reported the Hindu

“Jab tak kaala, tab tak taala.”

Interestingly, the Patrika’s strong move comes on the National Press Day, which celebrates the existence of free and responsible media in the country. That this is not the first time that the state’s leading daily has openly thrown the gauntlet at the government, further heightening the impact of the protest. On November 1, in a front-page editorial, the daily announced its decision to boycott the chief minister until she revoked the controversial ordinance seeking to bar the media from naming a public servant till government sanctioned the probe.

Not just that. Since November 1, the paper has been carrying a ‘lock’ on its front page every day, with the headline “Jab tak kaala tab tak taala”. The ‘lock’ carries the message that the paper will not publish any news about the chief minister and any other related news till the ‘black ordinance’ is revoked. It further clarifies that this is a question of democracy, freedom of expression, and people’s voice.

The Criminal Laws (Rajasthan Amendment) Bill, tabled in the assembly on October 23, to replace an ordinance promulgated on September 7, amends the Criminal Code of Procedure (CrPC), 1973, enhancing levels of immunity to public servants. According to the new rules, no investigation can be ordered by the police under Section 156 or a magistrate under Section 190 into allegations against public servants, judges and magistrates. Journalists are barred from reporting these allegations, unless and until the state government sanctions the prosecution.

The Jaipur and Jodhpur benches of the Rajasthan high court have issued notices to the Centre and state government on eight writ petitions challenging the ordinance. The state government, however, is yet to file its reply in the court, reported the Hindu.