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Why the Finance Ministry’s diktat against journalists is effectively a ban

In order to understand what the order would effectively do, one has to understand how PIB accreditation helps journalists in their everyday work
New Delhi: Following uproar over the Finance Ministry’s order to impose restrictions on the entry of PIB-accredited journalists, the explanation given by the ministry seems to be a kind of eyewash. The ministry has defended its decision, saying that no ban has been placed on media entry and all that is being asked for was that journalists seek an appointment before coming in so that they do not require an additional pass to enter the ministry. That sounds reasonable enough, right? The outcry by journalists has been met with criticism like, ‘What makes journalists so special that they can barge into a minister’s office unannounced?’ But that’s where the catch is. In order to understand what the order would effectively do, one has to understand how PIB accreditation helps journalists in their everyday work.

The PIB card is not just a pass to arrive unannounced

PIB accreditation is not handed over to journalists just like that. There’s a strict criteria that needs to be met before accreditation can be granted to a journalist. The purpose of having an accreditation card is not to walk in and buttonhole a minister or bureaucrats unannounced but to protect sources. That’s because a PIB-accredited journalist need not record their presence at a ministry or a government office. The PIB card is good enough by itself and acts as a pass that allows journalists entry into government offices. Since there’s no record of the visit in the register, senior authorities never know who the journalist is meeting.

How does anonymity help?

In most ministries, officers below a certain rank are not allowed to meet the media. PIB accreditation helps journalists get over that hurdle. This anonymity allows mediapersons to meet officers in the lower rungs of the hierarchy, who usually are in the know of the inside stories, without recording their names or their sources’ names in the register. This is where most of the stories, that question the official line of thought, come from. This also protects the sources that part with ultra-sensitive information. If the names are recorded in official books, it becomes easy for the government to clamp down on information leak and punish officers.

What does this mean?

This means that by requiring journalists to record their presence in the official books, the government will be able to maintain tight control on the kind of information that goes out into public domain, effectively banning all the outflow of information that’s not official and that puts the government to scrutiny.