Sunday 25 August 2019

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Scribes wage a war over Right to Info bill

 

Journalists, who walked out of the Assembly and boycotted the last-day House proceedings, are in a mood to wage a war against the local Congress government over suppressing Freedom of the Press in the name of passing the Right to Information bill.

The much-debated bill was passed on Thursday late night amidst total confusion over a clause which provided for punishment to journalists for publishing any information in a malafide or distorted manner.

Journalists of the local and outstation newspapers unanimously walked out of the House in protest and later staged demonstration at late night in front of the state Secretariat, shouting slogans against the ruling Congress as well as the opposition Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party.

The Editors' Guild and the Goa Union of Journalists had demanded deletion of the clause. Accordingly, Law Minister Domnick Fernandes announced in the House his intention to delete it while four MLAs - three Congress and one BJP - moved amendments for deletion.

All of them fully supported the journalists' contention that the clause was unnecessary and there are enough provisions in the IPC to take care of yellow journalism. "Deletion of the clause will prove that the government is sincere and transparent", stated the law minister.

But the move was thwarted by opposition leader Kashinath Jalmi, who belongs to union law minister Ramakant Khalap's MGP, as well as two Congress ministers - Luizinho Faleiro and Dayanand Narvekar, raising a technical issue that no clause can be deleted at passing stage.

Chief minister Pratapsing Rane, who had championed the bill, also supported the move and told his party MLAs to withdraw the amendment, though one Congress MLA refused to oblige and stood by the BJP MLA, whose amendment was however defeated.

Surprisingly, the House later on deleted another clause from the same bill unanimously, while journalists walked out in protest. Earlier in the day, Goa PCC president Shantaram Naik had also announced at a press conference that the CM had agreed to delete the clause.

The journalists and editors have now decided to wage a state-wide agitation, while also urging Governor P C Alexander not to give his assent. Almost all the local newspapers have condemned the government's attempt to gag the press under the guise of right to information.

The clause reminds of the Bihar Press bill and the Tamil Nadu Press Act, states Ashwin Tombat, secretary of the Editors' Guild. "It can be misused by calling even the editorial comment or news analysis as malafide and distorted", adds Prakash Kamat, the GUJ president.

Incidentally, the Rane government has also not withdrawn a circular issued three years ago which bars anyone except the ministers and the chief secretary from talking to the press. The government however still claims that the new bill would bring in total transparency.






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