New Media Accreditation Rules Add to India Free Speech Worries
India has tightened rules for journalists by allowing officials to deny accreditation based on public order and morality.
(Bloomberg) -- India has tightened rules for journalists by allowing government officials to deny accreditation based on public order and morality, adding to worries about falling free speech standards in the world’s largest democracy.
The new federal government guidelines, set out on the website of the Press Information Bureau, show that journalists can lose accreditation if their actions are “prejudicial to the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement of an offence.”
The PIB accreditation allows journalists access to government offices in the capital. It’s also often required to cover events like high-level bilateral meetings.
India’s constitution allows similar restrictions on free speech but their generic mention in accreditation rules gives the government “incredibly discretionary” powers to restrict media freedom, said Apar Gupta, a lawyer and the executive director of the Internet Freedom Foundation. “It gives a greater degree of flexibility to the government and reduces the specificity of the censorship powers.”
In the past decade, India has seen a decline on the World Press Freedom Rankings compiled by Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, amid increased internet shutdowns and the jailing of dissidents and journalists. In 2021 India ranked 142nd out of 180 countries, slipping down consistently from 133rd position in 2016.
An email seeking comments from the Press Information Bureau remained unanswered. The government has earlier disagreed with the slide in the press freedom ranking.
The new rules allow accreditation for digital news publishers but require them to comply with controversial 2021 information technology rules that mandate stricter compliance and disclosures and government oversight. Critics allege the rules give the government greater power for control and monitoring of online content.
The implementation of the new information technology rules was partially halted by a high court in Mumbai last year.
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