New Delhi: Terming the inordinate delay in the annual renewal of the accreditation cards issued by the Press Information Bureau to journalists as “an overt or covert effort to prevent media persons from being kept informed of the government’s viewpoints on news emanating from ministries”, the Press Club of India (PCI) has urged the Union government to expedite the process and to extend the validity of cards that expired on December 31, 2021 by a year to provide immediate relief.
In a letter to Union minister for information and broadcasting Anurag Thakur, the PCI president Umakant Lakhera and secretary-general Vinay Kumar wrote recently that it was “perplexing” that the media has not been “officially informed of any specific reason for the delay or impediment in the process” of renewal of PIB cards.
Stating that the move has “caused misgivings”, the letter said, “it is felt that this move is heedlessly and needlessly aimed at suppressing coverage of news and views gathering, controlling freedom of press and putting undue pressure on correspondents and photographers.”
‘If system is being streamlined, extend validity of existing cards’
Since an impression is being given in official circles that this step is to streamline the system of issuing PIB accreditation, the Press Club said in that case, an order should be issued for extending the validity of the cards that were valid until 2021 up to December 31, 2022 to ensure that there was “no disruption of work of the accredited correspondents in catering the government news to the public without any hassles”.
By that time, it suggested, the ministry could also have held consultations with the Central Press Accreditation Committee and other stakeholders.
The Press Club also said the same facility may be extended to accredited freelance journalists to cater to various small and medium print, digital and electronic media organisations. “Their services are of immense interest to the government to furnish authentic government news to the newspapers, digital media and web portals that are not able to afford to have the full time staffers in Delhi,” it added.
‘PIB card important for Parliament, election coverage, availing health facilities’
The letter also delved upon the importance of accreditation cards in the lives of the journalists since a number of them depend on the Central Government Health Scheme card for availing of health facilities. “Without valid PIB card the CGHS cards cannot be renewed too,” it said.
The PCI also noted that these cards were important in providing access for Parliament and election coverage. It added that “with as many as five states going for polls soon it will be very difficult for accredited journalists to cover the elections since Election Commission passes are issued based on PIB cards”.
The PCI letter also noted how the Union government has arbitrarily changed the good practices that were associated with the process of accreditation. “Since after Independence, the facility of the PIB accreditation card, after due investigation of the journalists’ credentials, has been granted to media persons for enabling their unhindered visits and access to the government offices and institutions. At different points of time, whenever deemed necessary, the government broadened the procedural workability of this facility,” it said.
On the changes in the past, it said, “as and when, based on the demands of different organisations, policies were amended with a view to raising the quota of accreditation, policymakers took the trouble to seek the suggestions of the Central Press Accreditation Committee (CPAC), Press Association and other senior journalists.” But, it regretted that “this practice is not being followed now.”
Finally, the PCI urged Thakur to “issue the necessary directive to the officials concerned and get the PIB accreditation cards renewed without further delay, if desired up to 31.12.2022 without the formalities like press clippings, etc.”