The YSRCP government has issued a controversial order in Andhra Pradesh that giver bureaucrats the power to sue media houses over defamatory, ‘baseless’ and false reports.
The order (GO RT No 2430) was issued on Wednesday. The state cabinet had taken the decision on October 16.
As per reports, the new government order comes two weeks after the Andhra Pradesh cabinet took the decision to take action against defamatory media reports. Despite protests by journalists and media houses in the state, yesterday the state government has released the order officially.
The order states that secretaries in all government departments can now file rejoinders, complaints and initiate lawsuits through the public prosecutors against editors, publishers of certain media outlets if they find their report defamatory and false.
The order states “Government hereby accord permission to delegate powers to the secretaries of respective departments to issue rejoinders, file complaints and lodge appropriate cases, if need be, through public prosecutor against defamatory news items published/telecast/posted in print/electronic/social media pertaining to their respective departments after following due process of law.” It is issued by T. Vijay Kumar Reddy, ex-officio special secretary to the government, Information and Public Relations Department.
Reacting strongly to the controversial order, former CM and TDP chief N Chandrababu Naidu tweeted saying that the right to question, criticize and showcase the failures of a govt is fundamental to democracy. Calling the order ‘draconian’, he further added that the order aims to curb the freedom of expression and stifle people’s voices on social media.
Naidu further added that this order will be used by the state machinery to file false cases and harass media outlets and individuals who are attempting to highlight the government’s failures. He claimed that his party will fight against the order.
As per a report in Outlook, the Jagan Mohan government had explained earlier that through the order, the government is only decentralising the power which was, till now, vested with the Commissioner of Informations and Public Relations.
The Andhra government had further stated that filing cases or defamation suits will be the last resort and media outlets will be first issued a rejoinder to ensure that the correction and clarification over a false or misinformative report is given the same time slot, prominence and clarity.
Many journalists, including prominent journalists’ unions, have spoken against the order. Andhra Pradesh Union of Working Journalists (APUWJ) President IV Subba Rao and Indian Journalists’ Union’s national vice president Ambati Subba Rao have presented a memorandum at the CMO stating that the decision will result in the suppression of media freedom and democracy.