Andhra Pradesh: Curbs on media if report intention mala fide

The Cabinet did not take up the minister’s proposal, which he submitted for the second time.

Andhra Pradesh’s Information and Public Relations Minister Perni Venkataramaiah has proposed curbs on the media by implementing a 2007 government order (GO) against reports with “mala fide intentions”.

On Wednesday, the minister, who also holds the Transport portfolio, submitted a proposal to the state Cabinet to empower department heads to initiate legal action against the media and social media outlets if they publish news with “mala fide intentions.’’

The Cabinet did not take up the minister’s proposal, which he submitted for the second time. Defending his proposal, Venkataramaiah said: “I have noticed some false, fake and defaming news items about our government published or aired by a few publications and news channels. There were baseless allegations and motivated reports designed to damage the reputation of Chief Minister Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy. It is not the journalists or reporters, but some media house owners who are doing this mischief. I have proposed (that) instead of I&PR Commissioner having to issue rejoinders, or taking up such baseless news items of all departments, why not empower departmental heads to initiate legal action if they notice false or defaming news regarding their respective departments?”

“A GO to do that already exists. I am proposing that it should be implemented. The Cabinet did not consider it.”

Telugu news channels ABN Andhra Jyothi and TV5 have earlier alleged that Venkataramaiah was behind an unofficial ban on the two channels, due to which several cable networks and the government-owned Andhra Pradesh State Fibernet Limited (APSFL) had stopped airing the two channels from September 9. An official from ABN said the minister accused the two channels of not covering any news of the YSRCP government and allegedly told cable operators unofficially to not air them.

TV5 approached the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT), which ordered immediate restoration, and the channel was back on air from September 19. However, some cable networks have still not restored ABN Andhra Jyothi, according to company representatives. “We have approached TDSAT and proceedings are going on. We are pursuing it,’’ an official from the office of ABN Andhra Jyothi MD, Vemuri Radhakrishna, said.

Minister Venkataramaiah denied that he had pressured the Multi-System Operators (MSOs) and APSFL to de-link the two channels. “Some cable operators on their own decided not to air the two channels, which they thought were defaming the government. APSFL suffered a technical glitch, which they have rectified now,’’ he said. He said GO MS 938 GA (Poll-B) empowers the Special Commissioner of I&PR to file cases against anyone spreading false news with mala fide intent.

The GO was issued in 2007, when Y S Rajasekhara Reddy was chief minister of united AP.

The proposal submitted by the minister states: “Now it is felt that departmental secretaries with through knowledge of the affairs about the department and having wherewithal to judge whether the news is true or false after conducting through enquiry should be empowered to file cases against defamatory content appearing in print, electronic and social media.”

On the Cabinet not taking up the minister’s memorandum for discussion and approval, an official from the Chief Minister’s Office said, “The CM has made it clear that AP Government has no intention of harassing journalists or reporters.”