'Rajasthan Patrika' to Boycott Vasundhara Raje Until 'Black Law' Is Revoked

"This a question of democracy, of expression, of the people’s opinion of pride," the Rajasthan Patrika editorial said.

New DelhiRajasthan Patrika, a leading Hindi daily in the state, on Wednesday announced that it would boycott chief minister Vasundhara Raje until she revoked the controversial ordinance seeking to bar the media from naming a public servant pending government sanction for the probe.

Editor-in-chief Gulab Kothari, in the front-page editorial wrote, “Accepting the advice of our editorial board, the board of directors have decided that till the chief minister Vasundhara Raje doesn’t take back this black law, Rajasthan Patrika will not publish her and the related news. This a question of democracy, of expression, of the people’s opinion of pride.”

A huge public outcry recently forced Raje to refer the vexed legislation to a select committee of the assembly on October 24.

The paper’s editorial said the government’s move referring the bill to a select committee was an “eyewash” since the ordinance was still in force and “a journalist publishing a corrupt officer’s name today can be jailed for two years.” The editorial further observed that “totalitarian rule” was trying to dominate democracy, reported the Hindu.

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, and enhances 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.

Congress leader Sachin Pilot has subsequently moved the Rajasthan high court against the ordinance, calling it illegal and unconstitutional, and demanding its withdrawal. The high court on October 27 issued a notice to the Centre and the state government on the ordinance.

This is not the first time Rajasthan Patrika has had to stand its ground against attempts by the state government to curb its freedom to publish news and opinion. With the Raje government withdrawing ads to the newspaper, state government advertisements to the paper dipped to an all-time low last year, hurting the paper’s financial viability.

Senior lawyer Abhishek Manu Singhvi, then appearing in the Supreme Court to defend the daily, had argued that the state government was violating its own advertisement policy and discriminating against the newspaper. Figures showed that Rajasthan Patrika had received 34.12% government advertisement in 2015 as against a drastically reduced 1.26% in 2016. Terming this a “direct assault on the freedom of the press,”  Singhvi linked the shortfall in government ad revenue to the paper’s criticism of the government, articulated in its articles.  He told the bench that the “declining ad is resulting in declining circulation. It’s a fight for survival.”

Justice A. K. Sikri, who was on the bench along with D. Y. Chandrachud, noted that ads had almost dried up to nought for the Rajasthan Patrika in 2016 while they had gone up for Dainik Bhaskar. He asked the Rajasthan government to “balance” its ad allocation.