Andhra Government Allows Bureaucrats To Sue Media Over 'Defamatory' Reports
The Andhra Pradesh government on October 16 issued a controversial order, empowering bureaucrats to sue media houses for ‘defamatory, baseless and false’ reports.
Two weeks after the state cabinet took the decision, the government officially issued orders authorising secretaries of departments to sue media houses, ignoring the objection it drew from the journalist fraternity and opposition.
“The government hereby accords permission to delegate powers to the secretaries of respective departments to issue rejoinders, file complaints and lodge appropriate cases, if need be, through public prosecutor against defamatory news items published/telecast/posted in print/electronic/social media pertaining to their respective departments after following due process of law,” reads the Government Order (GO) issued by T Vijay Kumar Reddy, ex-officio secretary to the government, Information and Public Relations Department.
Leader of Opposition and Telugu Desam Party (TDP) president N Chandrababu Naidu reacted strongly to the order and called it repressive. He said that this would curb freedom of expression and is meant to mute people on social media.
The former Chief Minister noted that the right to question, criticise and showcase the failures of a government is fundamental to democracy.
“Prodded by the YSRC Party, the Police will now be able to foist false cases to harass media institutions & people who are showcasing the many failures of the Govt. If necessary, we will take the fight to the streets until this oppressive GO is cancelled,” tweeted Naidu.
The right to question, criticize and showcase the failures of a govt is fundamental to democracy. @ysjagan’s govt has today issued the draconian GO 2430 that aims to curb freedom of expression in AP. This is meant to stifle people’s voice on social media (1/2) pic.twitter.com/aNgbH6376C
— N Chandrababu Naidu (@ncbn) October 30, 2019
But justifying the decision, the chief minister Jagan Mohan Reddy said in the memorandum that unfavourable news would “bring down the morale of the implementing agency, department, and officer, which ultimately could hamper the progress of the state.”
Referring to the “background”, the he noted that certain print, electronic and social media were “deliberately trying to tarnish the image of the government and government officials” by spreading false news with malicious interest.
It said that the process will start with issuing a rejoinder, ensuring that the correction is given the same prominence as the wrongly published/televised news was given, including the placement/time slot and has full clarity besides being properly sourced.
The clarification, however, failed to alleviate fear amongst journalists that the powers will be abused to target media houses, especially those critical of the ruling party.
The Editors Guild of India recently said that an “unwritten ban” has been imposed by the YSR Congress-led government on two Telugu news channels and asked the state dispensation not to create a situation where the constitutionally mandated freedoms of media representatives are compromised.
At least three journalists have been attacked in Andhra Pradesh since Jagamohan Reddy assumed power in the state.