FinMin's gag order on media may hurt press freedom ranking: Editors Guild

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman Photo- Sanjay K.Sharma

The Editors Guild on Wednesday described the Finance Ministry restrictions on the entry of media persons into North Block as a "gag" on media freedom and urged Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman to withdraw the "arbitrary decision".

A clarification issued by the office of the finance minister on Tuesday said a procedure has been put in place for "streamlining and facilitating" the entry of media persons inside the ministry of finance and "no ban is in place" on the entry of media persons in the ministry.

The Editors Guild, however, condemned the ministry's "arbitrary decision" to deny even government-accredited journalists' access to its offices in North Block, without prior appointment.

The guild, in a statement, said it has no dispute with the ministry that journalists should behave with restraint and responsibility while enjoying their access to the finance ministry, but a blanket order is not the answer.

"Journalists do not go to government offices to enjoy the comforts and hospitality of visitors' rooms designated for them. They go to perform their challenging job of news gathering," it asserted.

"This order is a gag on media freedoms and can even result in a further fall in India's global press freedom rankings, especially as the contagion can easily spread to other ministries as well," the Editors Guild said.

If the finance minister believes that journalists' access to government offices is causing some inconveniences, the system could be improved in discussions with journalists, the guild said.

The guild urges Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman to reconsider her decision and withdraw it, the statement said.

As a precedence, North Block, the seat of the finance ministry, has only been out of bounds for journalists during the pre-budget quarantine period, which is about two months.

However, even after the presentation of 2019-20 Budget on July 5, security personnel manning the gates of the ministry were not allowing the entry of journalists, without appointment, even the Press Information Bureau-accredited ones.

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