Institution of journalism is crumbling, the Rules of accreditation framed but not scrupulously followed: High Court of Himachal Pradesh

High time that the State reviews and revises the list of accreditation so as to ensure that only genuine and credible correspondents are accorded accreditation. This was said in the case of Vijay Gupta v State of H.P and Others [CWP No. 7487 of 2014] by Justice Tarlok Singh Chauhan in the High Court of Himachal Pradesh at Shimla.

The facts of the case are that the petitioner is the Editor of the Hindi Weekly namely ‘Him Ujala’. He has been working in the field of journalism for the past more than 13 years yet his accreditation had been cancelled on the ground that there are certain FIRs pending against him. Hence, a plea was filed.

The petitioner averred that the State stopping publication of the tenders and classified ads of the government and not renewing the accreditation of the petitioner, is a direct attack on the freedom of press. This is financially crippling his news weekly and is depriving him the facilities which are usually available to the correspondents and journalists of the State. It was further averred that the freedom of press is one of the pillars of democracy and it is imperative to ensure that there is no attack on the freedom of press and, therefore, the action of the State is illegal. Lastly, it was averred that the petitioner has been targeted because he had been publishing news items regarding corruption and irregularities committed by the political leaders, who had amassed huge wealth.

On the other hand, the respondents averred that the petitioner’s accreditation and suspension was placed before the Press Accreditation Committee, which is the final authority as per Rule 4 of H.P. Press Correspondents Accreditation and Recognition Rules, 2002, who after scrutiny of the record decided to keep under suspension the accreditation of the petitioner till the final outcome of the criminal cases pending against him in various Courts. Lastly, it was averred that accreditation or recognition is not a matter of right and the same can always be suspended under the relevant Rules.

The Court referred to the case of Surya Prakash Khatri vs. Smt. Madhu Trehan [1992 (2001) DLT 665], where it was said that “power of the Press is almost like nuclear power – it can create and it can destroy”. Considering this, the Court stressed that “because of mushroom growth of journalist and because of the cut-throat competition amongst the journalists themselves, their standards are declining leading to the decline of the institution of journalism itself. This is further compounded by the accreditation offered by the State Government to so called “journalists”, who in the real sense are not journalists but only enjoy the facilities accorded and available to accredited journalists”.

 Furthermore, the Court said that “it is imperative that the owner/editor of a newspaper like the petitioner shoulder greater responsibility and in case his own conduct is under scanner, then obviously, his accreditation has to be suspended”. Hence, the instant petition was disposed. Other than that, the Court ordered the State to and revise the list of accreditation so as to ensure that only genuine and credible correspondents are accorded accreditation.

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