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New Delhi: In a controversial notification issued last week, the district administration of Bilaspur in Himachal Pradesh had ordered journalists looking to cover Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the state for Dussehra celebrations tomorrow, October 5, to produce character certificates in order to obtain access passes. The notice has now been withdrawn.
Modi is slated to speak at an event in Luhnu Ground in the poll-bound state’s Bilaspur district tomorrow after his last rally, scheduled to be held in the state’s Mandi city on September 24, was cancelled due to inclement weather.
What’s more, the order applied not just to privately-owned news publications, but also to public broadcasters All India Radio (AIR) and Doordarshan as well.
The police, too, issued a notification on September 29 directing the District Public Relations Officer (DPRO) to provide a list of all “correspondents, photographers, videographers team of Doordarshan Kendra and AIR along with a certificate of their character verification” to the deputy superintendent of police, Criminal Investigation Department, Bilaspur, by October 1.
“Their access within the rally or meeting will be decided by this office,” the notification read.
However, on October 4, Himachal director general of police Sanjay Kundu clarified in a tweet that all journalists are welcome to cover the event and that the state’s police will “facilitate their coverage.
All journalists are most welcome to cover Hon’ble Prime Minister’s visit to Himachal Pradesh tomorrow 5th October, 2022.
Himachal Pradesh Police will facilitate their coverage.
Any inconvenience is regretted.
— Sanjay Kundu, IPS (@sanjaykunduIPS) October 4, 2022
The Bilaspur superintendent of police (SP) also wrote to the DPRO on Tuesday noting that the September 29 order had been “issued inadvertently” and that it now stands withdrawn.
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Prior to DGP Kundu’s clarification, the move had stoked controversy amongst journalists, commentators and the Opposition ahead of Modi’s rally in the state, which goes to polls in November this year.
Social media commentators described the move as an attempt to limit press freedom and many opined that this was an attempt by the saffron party to draw a line between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ journalists.
And the Himachal govt has now demanded a good character certificate from all journalists who wish to cover the PM’s rally in the state headed for elections this winter. https://t.co/X0nwHI6mRr
— Mrinal Pande (@MrinalPande1) October 4, 2022
Journalist Ismat Ara wrote Twitter that the ruling party was deciding who can and cannot cover an event of “national significance”.
In India, the ruling party now decides who can or cannot cover an event of national significance.
Journalists asked to produce “character certificate” for covering Prime Minister Modi’s visit to an election bound state, Himachal Pradesh.
— Ismat Ara (@IsmatAraa) October 4, 2022
Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) national spokesperson Clyde Crasto called the move an “insult to the (journalistic) fraternity”.
Asking #Journalists to give Character Certificates to cover PM #Modi ji’s event in Himachal Pradesh is an insult to their Fraternity.
Background check for security reasons is understandable.
Instead of Journalists, #BJP should ask for Character Certificates of their own leaders
— Clyde Crasto – क्लाईड क्रास्टो (@Clyde_Crasto) October 4, 2022
National convenor of the Congress’s Bharat Jodo Yatra, Saral Patel, too took a pot shot at the BJP-led Union government.
Journalists will have to furnish character certificates to cover PM event in Himachal Pradesh.
Basically, only “Gullus” will be allowed to cover PM’s event. pic.twitter.com/1oqFbEUpQR
— Saral Patel #BharatJodoYatra (@SaralPatel) October 4, 2022
Prior to the clarification from DGP Kundu, India Today had reported that DPRO Kuldeep Guleria refused to accept journalists’ official identity cards without the character certificate and even insisted that an official stamp be present on journalists’ digital IDs.
“This formality is mandatory to all. The SP and CID departments are asking for the certificates of character verification,” the newspaper quoted Guleria as saying.