The Press Council of India (PCI), on 1 November, took suo moto cognizance of the order issued by the Government of Andhra Pradesh authorising department heads to initiate legal action against media that publish or broadcast “false, baseless and defamatory” content. The PCI expressed “grave concern” directed the state chief secretary and Information Commissioner to file a reply.
Even as Chandrababu Naidu vowed to fight this GO, what the PCI did not realise is government orders permitting bureaucrats to file cases against the media was pretty much the norm during the Telugu Desam regime as well. Filter Kaapi has with it five such GOs, all of them in 2018-19 accusing the Sakshi media group that is owned by Jaganmohan Reddy’s family. The then Chandrababu Naidu government has allowed IAS officers including the APCRDA commissioner of filing defamation suits against the media group’s publications.
While it may now seem a case of whataboutery, the fact is that since the TDP government did not make a noise about the cases, the Press Council remained blissfully unaware of it. At no stage, did it take note of the manner in which cases were filed against the Sakshi group. What Jagan has now done is to make the process more transparent and in the process, invited censure.
What it also shows is that Naidu is shedding crocodile tears because these GOs show he too practised taking a hostile media group to the courts. The apprehension is that in the tit-for-tat politics in Andhra Pradesh, Jagan will do the same with pro-TDP media houses.
While the case still remains that there is no space for fake and deliberately defamatory stories, the apprehension given the polarised media space in Andhra Pradesh is that this GO 2430 will be misused and abused to harass and fix hostile media groups. Jagan should have realised that there are enough provisions within the law that empower government officers to seek remedial action in case of defamation. This order only makes it seem Jagan is out to gag the media, forcing it to go slow or silent on criticism of the YSRCP government.