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Monday, April 16, 2012

Troop movements: Press Council will challenge HC’s gag order in SC

Underlining the media’s fundamental right under Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution, Press Council of India chairman Justice Markandey Katju today said that the council would challenge in the Supreme Court the Allahabad High Court order issuing a blanket ban on the media reporting troop movements. The High Court should have taken a more “balanced approach”, Justice Katju said. On April 10, Justice Uma Nath Singh and Justice Virendra Kumar Dixit of the Lucknow bench directed the secretary, Home Affairs, and secretary, Information & Broadcasting, Government of India, and the principal secretary (Home), Government of Uttar Pradesh, “to ensure that there is no reporting/release of any news item by the print and electronic media, namely the movement of troops”.
Yesterday, the I&B ministry issued an advisory to all “private satellite TV channels” to “strictly follow” the high court’s order.That order came on a PIL filed by a social activist relating to a report in The Indian Express on April 4, 2012 — “The January night Raisina Hill was spooked: Two key Army units moved towards Delhi without notifying Govt”. “With great respect to the High Court, I am of the opinion that the order of the High Court is not correct. The media has a fundamental right under Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution to make such publication, as it did not endanger national security... The Press Council of India will be challenging the order of the Allahabad High Court in the Supreme Court of India very shortly,” Justice Markandey Katju, Chairman, Press Council of India (PCI), said in an official statement today.
“I may add that the Indian Army is not a colonial army, but the army of the Indian people who pay the taxes for the entire defence budget. Hence the people of India have a right to know about army affairs, except where that may compromise national security. The media did an excellent job in exposing the Adarsh and Sukhna scams in which senior army officers were involved, and they were well within their right under Article 19(1) (a) to do so,” the PCI chairman said. The PCI is a statutory body set up to “preserve the freedom of press and for maintaining and improving the standards of newspapers and news agencies”.
Defending The Indian Express article, Justice Katju said: “The Indian Express is not a fly-by-night newspaper, but a responsible one. They took 11 weeks to complete the investigation of the reported troop investigation before deciding to publish the report. Hence I do not see how they can be faulted.”The PCI chairman rejected the HC’s blanket ban on reporting troop movement, citing national security. “I am of the opinion that reporting troop movement near the Indian border or during war time should be prohibited as that may aid the enemy and cause harm to our armed forces, by compromising national security. However, in my opinion there can be no general prohibition of reporting of all troop movements,” Katju said. He said the prohibition imposed by the HC was “not valid” as The Indian Express story did not deal with war time or border troop movement. 
“As regards the reporting of alleged troop movement by The Indian Express, I am of the opinion that without going into the question whether the news reporting was factually correct or not, there could not have been a valid prohibition of such reporting, because the troop movement was not at the Indian border or during war time,” he stated in the release.“On the other hand the allegation in The Indian Express report was that there was some convention written or unwritten, that troop movements towards Delhi should not take place without notifying and getting consent of the government, and it was alleged that the troop movement in question took place without notifying the government. The further allegation was that this caused panic among the civil authorities, and the troop movement was abruptly stopped,” Katju said. (Indian Express)