Televisionpoint.com Correspondent The blatant move of Andhra Pradesh government to use incriminating evidence on the alleged links of 75-odd journalists with outlawed Maoist outfits to gag the media surprises no one. Not only successive governments in the state but also the powers-that-be at the Centre and in other states have, too often, sought to impose arbitrary curbs on the media.
N. T. Rama Rao tried to bring in a Bill to place restrictions on the Press. While imposing ban on People's War Group in 1992, the then chief minister N. Janardhan Reddy had declared that the police was empowered under the AP Public Security Act to book journalists for giving publicity to Maoists. N. T. Rama Rao and Janardhan Reddy had to beat a hasty retreat in the wake of widespread protests by journalists and civil rights groups.
The latest move is one in a series during the present regime to browbeat journalists who raise critical voices. A few days ago, a journalist was arrested under the Public Security Act for allegedly acting as a courier for Maoists. Only last month, two scribes were arrested in connection with a sting operation undertaken to highlight irregularities in the Indiramma housing programme. Earlier this year, the government had issued GO 938 for prosecuting newspapers and TV channels for carrying baseless and defamatory reports. The gag order was withdrawn after angry protests by the media.
Though initially the Chief Minister, Dr Y. S. Rajasekhar Reddy, claimed that the GO was issued without his knowledge and the signature of the chief secretary,. File notings obtained under Right to Information Act revealed that the Chief Minister and the chief secretary had indeed approved and signed the GO 938 on February 20.
The Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and expression with reasonable restrictions in certain circumstances. Any arm-twisting tactics against the media betray the nervousness of the powers-that-be who are becoming increasingly intolerant of criticism these days. But such attempts to muzzle the media would only prove counter-productive as the late Indira Gandhi realised the hard way in 1977.
The press, described as the Fourth Estate, has to act as a watch-dog on the functioning of the legislature, the executive and the judiciary without fear or favour.
Meanwhile, the AP CM's Office clarified that "the government has absolutely no intention to put any checks on the media and has always been maintaining cordial relations with the press and media journalists".
It may be noted that media reports with the headline 75 AP scribes to have Maoist links - YSR to use data to gag journalists has heated the matter. An release informed that the arrest of television reporter, P Srisailam resulted in the arrest of a top Maoist leader.
The CMO also clarified neither the government nor anybody in the government is trying to prosecute or implicate any journalist in false cases. It also denied that the government is planning to use the information to browbeat journalists.