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Editors’ Guild: Don’t blame media for panic

No democracy anywhere in the world is fighting the pandemic by gagging its media: The guild stressed

By Our Special Correspondent in New Delhi

  • Published 3.04.20, 4:58 AM
  • Updated 3.04.20, 4:58 AM
The guild said it was “deeply perturbed” by the government statement that “led the apex court to observe that while it didn’t want to inhibit the debate on the pandemic in any way, the media should refer to and publish the official version of the developments pertaining to the coronavirus pandemic.”
The guild said it was “deeply perturbed” by the government statement that “led the apex court to observe that while it didn’t want to inhibit the debate on the pandemic in any way, the media should refer to and publish the official version of the developments pertaining to the coronavirus pandemic.” (Shutterstock)

The Editors’ Guild of India issued a statement on Thursday, questioning the government’s attempt in the Supreme Court to blame the media for the panicked mass migration of day labourers from cities in the lockdown.

The guild said it was “deeply perturbed” by the government statement that “led the apex court to observe that while it didn’t want to inhibit the debate on the pandemic in any way, the media should refer to and publish the official version of the developments pertaining to the coronavirus pandemic.”

It said that while the guild holds the court in the highest respect, it finds this advice “gratuitous and unnecessary”.

“No democracy anywhere in the world is fighting the pandemic by gagging its media,” the guild stressed.

Within a day of the Supreme Court order, the BJP governments at the Centre and in Uttar Pradesh appeared to try to restrict questioning and to intimidate.

At the Centre, an attempt was made on Wednesday to restrict access to the daily Union health ministry briefing on the pandemic, with officials circulating the Supreme Court order. After the media protested, the press conference was opened to all those who wanted to attend, but only three questions were taken up. More questions were allowed on Thursday, but stonewalling by officials continued.

In Uttar Pradesh, Faizabad police filed an FIR against the news website The Wire for reporting, among other things, that the day after the Prime Minister announced a lockdown, chief minister Yogi Adityanath violated it to participate in a religious ceremony in Ayodhya along with dozens of people.

Siddharth Varadarajan, the founding editor of The Wire billed the FIR as a “blatant attack on the freedom of the press” and said it was politically motivated.

The guild described the FIR as “an act of intimidation”.

PEN Delhi, the Delhi wing of the international organisation fighting for freedom of expression, noted the FIR and also how questions posed by health journalists on basic information on the response to Covid-19 “remain unanswered”.

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