After Facing Criticism For Placing Restrictions On Entry Of Journalists, Finance Ministry Denies Ban
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has received backlash over her decision to extend the ‘pre-Budget quarantine’ period, for days after the presentation of the Union Budget. During the quarantine period, journalists are restricted to enter the premises of the finance ministry. This is said to be done to cut down on leaks and potentially unfavourable news.
According to the tradition, the restriction on journalists is removed after the Budget is presented in the parliament. However, this time, finance beat journalists were surprised to find the restriction extended, even three days after the budget was presented in the parliament.
A clarification from the office of finance minister states that there is no ban in place and the new arrangement is being made just to streamline and facilitate the entry of media persons.
Clarification on media reports alleging that media persons have been banned from entering the Ministry of Finance, North Block. pic.twitter.com/T2muJ6NV0J
— NSitharamanOffice (@nsitharamanoffc) July 9, 2019
PIB Accredited Journalists Asked To Have Prior Appointment
The ministry has asked accredited journalists to have a prior appointment with a government official for entring into the department. “Entry of media persons, including those holding PIB accredited card, will be on the basis of a prior appointment. No other restrictions have been imposed on their entry inside MoF, North Block,” the notice issued by the finance ministry read. Prior to the imposition of new rules, journalists with PIB cards had access to all ministries and government buildings except PMO, defence and intelligence and investigative agencies.
Talking to The Logical Indian, Ujjawal Narayan, Senior Correspondent for News Rise said, “On July 10, we had a meeting with Nirmala Sitharaman and she wants to continue the ban. We see this as an attempt to gag the media and journalists. We want freedom for all the journalists to enter the department.”
On Tuesday, a notice from by the finance ministry clarified that there is no ‘ban’ on media persons on entering the Ministry of Finance. “This is to clarify that no ban is in place on the entry of media persons in the Ministry of Finance. North Block… These procedures are part of overall efforts being made by the ministry to make reporting for media persons hassle-free and convenient,” the note said.
The note stated that arrangements have been made for media persons outside Gate no.2, North Block to allot them a separate waiting room to make their reporting hassle-free and convenient.
Press Regulatory Bodies ‘Criticise’ The Ban
Both the Editor’s Guild of India (EGI) and the Press Club of India (PCI) come out in support of journalists and criticised the ministry’s decision.
“This order is a gag on media freedom and can even result in a further fall in India’s global press freedom rankings, as the contagion can easily spread to other ministries as well,” said the Editors Guild.
“If the finance minister believes that journalists’ access to government offices was causing some inconveniences, the system could be improved in discussions with journalists. The Guild urges the finance minister, Ms Nirmala Sitharaman, to reconsider her decision and withdraw it,” it further stated.
While the Press Club of India (PCI) said the decision would prevent journalists from “doing their fundamental as well as professional duty”.
Earlier, on Wednesday, a group of senior journalists, in a letter to EGI and PCI, demanded the restoration of access to the finance ministry. The journalists, as a sign of protest, also called for a boycott of the ministry’s post-Budget dinner on July 11.
Further, bashing the finance ministry move, the Indian Women Press Corps, Press Association and the Press Club of India issued a joint statement. The statement says that the move is “not only arbitrary but also hampers the freedom of press”.