'Major blow to Press freedom': International Press Institute slams Kerala govt's ordinance

New Delhi: The Vienna-based International Press Institute (IPI) on Monday vehemently criticised the Kerala government's ordinance making a controversial amendment to the state Police Act, saying it is a "major blow" to press freedom not only in the state but all over India as it threatens to set a precedent for other state dispensations to "stifle" independent media.

The IPI said the restrictions imposed by the ordinance are so broad and vaguely worded that it would criminalise the dissemination of news of great public interest.

The Kerala Police Act amendment ordinance, which was approved by the Governor of the Southern Indian state on November 22, criminalizes publication of “any matter which is threatening, abusive, humiliating or defamatory”. The ordinance provides for three-year imprisonment and a fine of Rs 10,000 if found guilty of the offence.

After strong criticism from all quarters including the CPM's own central leadership, the ruling CPM-led Left Democratic Front  (LDF) government in Kerala on Monday put on hold the implementation of the controversial amendment.

However, IPI Executive Director Barbara Trionfi said that each day the ordinance remains a law, it is a Sword of Damocles hanging over the media,” and added that the chief minister's assurance alone was not sufficient redress to the democratic concerns.

This ordinance is a major blow to press freedom not only in Kerala but all over India, as it threatens to set a precedent that other state governments in the country may follow to stifle critical voices and independent media," Trionfi was quoted as saying in a statement.

The restrictions imposed by the ordinance are so broad and vaguely worded that it would criminalize the dissemination of news of great public interest, in breach of the fundamental principles set by India's constitution and long democratic tradition, she said.

Trionfi demanded that the ordinance should be immediately withdrawn and struck off from the statute book, leaving no possibility for it to be brought back in the future.

Moreover, the timing of the ordinance raises doubts about the real intention behind its promulgation and appears to be an attempt to muzzle the media, it said.

"The ruling LDF has come under heightened public scrutiny for corruption scandals involving ruling party politicians and senior bureaucrats," the IPI said.

The International Press Institute is a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists who share a common dedication to quality and independent journalism.

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