Big Sister is watching
Ravi Shanker Kapoor | July 16, 2019 11:01 am
Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis meets with India's Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in New Delhi on Sept. 26, 2017. (DOD photo by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jette Carr)
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s decision to restrict the entry of journalists to North Block, which houses her Ministry, should be seen in a wider context—in the context of the Narendra Modi government’s antipathy towards and contempt for the media. It was this antipathy that led to the move that even the reporters with Press Information Bureau (PIB) accreditation cards would need to have an appointment to enter the Ministry premises.
The Editors Guild of India has rightly called the restriction “arbitrary.” It said in a statement, “This order is a gag on media freedoms and can even result to a further fall in India’s global press freedom rankings, especially as the contagion can easily spread to other ministries as well. If the finance minister believes that journalists’ access to government offices was causing some inconveniences, the system could be improved in discussions with journalists.”
As it is, India ranks 140 in the 180-country World Press Freedom Index 2019. In the last one year, it went down by two notches.
While the Guild wants Sitharaman “to reconsider her decision and withdraw it,” she is in no mood to do so. She justified the restriction, saying, “Entry of media persons, including those holding PIB accredited card, will be on the basis of prior appointment. No other restrictions have been imposed on their entry inside MoF, North Block.”
She also denied that there was any ban on the entry of media persons in North Block: “Entry of media persons, including those holding PIB accredited card, will be on the basis of prior appointment. No other restrictions have been imposed on their entry inside MOF.”
Further, it said, “Media persons holding a PIB card will not require a separate entry pass after the appointment is fixed.” These procedures are part of overall efforts being made by the ministry to make reporting for media persons hassle free and convenient, the clarification added.
This is not correct, for the move is to ensure that the government knows which journalist has met which officer. Now FinMin officers know that the Big Sister is watching.
It needs to be mentioned here that the Narendra Modi government did not begin to place restrictions on the movements of journalists. Writing for Firstpost, Praveen Swami said (July 12), “Many key ministries have long disallowed journalists from wandering the corridors of power. Lalit Mansingh, foreign secretary in 1999-2000, ended the pleasant practice of journalists wandering around South Block… Shivshankar Menon, foreign secretary from 2006–2009, tightened restrictions further.”
He added, “The defence ministry, the Prime Minister’s Office, and other premises connected to national security have always been off-limits for entry without appointment, even to journalists security-cleared by the government’s Press Information Bureau.” Lady Liberty has been molested before.
The molestation continues.