The Ministry of Finance has decided not to let journalists, even those with Press Information Bureau (PIB) accredited cards, enter its premises in North Block without prior appointment.
Earlier, this restriction was imposed only ahead of Budget presentation, when the entire ministry is quarantined in order to maintain secrecy. However, these restrictions were lifted on the very first working day after the presentation of the Union Budget. For instance, the Ministry had restricted access December 3, 2018 onwards, but they were lifted on February 2, 2019, a day after the presentation of the interim Budget.
Currently, journalists are mandated to take prior appointment while visiting the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), besides other central investigative and regulatory agencies.
After meeting journalists, who had sought prior appointment on July 6 owing to the restriction, on July 9, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman issued a clarification saying, “Entry of media persons, including those holding PIB accredited card, will be on the basis of prior appointment. No other restrictions have been imposed on their entry inside MoF, North Block.”
As per the statement issued by Sitharaman’s office:
# There is no ban on the entry of media persons in the Ministry of Finance, North Block.
# Entry of media persons, including those holding PIB accredited cards, will be on the basis of a prior appointment.
# Journalists with PIB accredited cards will not require a separate entry pass after the appointment is fixed.
# Adequate arrangements have been made for media persons outside Gate No. 2, North Block in the form of an air-conditioned waiting room with proper facilities.
“These procedures are part of overall efforts being made by the ministry to make reporting for media persons hassle-free and convenient,” the finance minister’s office said.
What is PIB accreditation?
The Press Information Bureau (PIB), under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, grants accreditation to full-time journalists with a minimum experience of five years. It is granted by a full-fledged security check by the MHA, which includes police verification at residence. Although the accreditation does not confer any special status on media persons, it recognizes them as full-time working journalists.
A PIB accredited card allows free access to most government buildings which house various ministries.
What is the Opposition’s reaction?
At least 16 Opposition parties have submitted a notice to Rajya Sabha Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu for a discussion on press freedom, The Indian Express has reported.
The notice, which had NCP Chief Sharad Pawar as the first signatory, is yet to be admitted in the business of the Upper House.
The Opposition parties – including Congress, SP, BSP, TMC, RJD, AAP, CPI – are pushing that the discussion be taken up next week, the newspaper reported.
Meanwhile, BJP MP Subramanian Swamy has also signed the notice.
Statement from Editor’s Guild of India
Calling the decision “arbitrary”, the Editor’s Guild of India condemned the move saying, “Journalists do not go to government offices to enjoy the comforts and hospitality of visitor’s rooms. They go to perform their challenging job of news gathering.”
Naming the order a “gag on media freedoms”, the Guild urged Sitharaman to “reconsider her order and withdraw it”.