Censorship undermines democracy
The cancellation of Registration Certificate issued to Daily Desher Katha could have a chilling effect
All judicial functionaries, starting from sub-divisional magistrates, should be given a copy of John Milton's 1644 booklet, Areopagitica. It was a passionate plea to Parliament in England to reject censorship. Milton wrote: "As good almost kill a man as kill a good Book; who kills a man kills a reasonable creature, Gods image; but hee who destoryes a good Booke, kills reason it selfe, kills the Image of God, as it were in the eye."
What Milton said about books equally applies to newspapers and magazines too. How does one look at the Registrar of Newspapers for India (RNI), the newspaper-licensing authority under the Government of India, invalidating the 'Certificate of Registration' awarded to the Daily Desher Katha that it had issued the same day?
The Daily Desher Katha - the party organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the second largest circulated daily in Tripura - was off the stands when the RNI withdrew its registration late night on October 1 based on inputs from the State administration.
The RNI order, signed by Additional Press Registrar K. Satish Nambudiripad, said the certificate was withdrawn after the Sub-Divisional Magistrate of Sadar West, Tripura, cancelled the "authentication as recorded by him over the declaration made in Form 1."
Change in ownership
This was based on a complaint by one Shyamal Debnath, to District Magistrate Sandeep Mahatme. His contention was that the daily had changed its ownership without informing the RNI. The print-line of the paper read that Samir Paul is the editor, printer and publisher and that the Daily Desher Katha Trust was the owner. However, according to the RNI website, Gautam Das is the editor, printer and publisher, and the CPI(M) Tripura State Committee the owner.
According to the CPI(M), this was not the paper's fault, as all necessary documents have been provided for every change in the management and editorship of Daily Desher Katha. When the paper came into existence on August 15, 1979, the year after the CPI(M) came to power in the State, it was owned by the Tripura State Committee of the CPI(M), and Gautam Das was the founder editor and publisher and printer of the daily. In 2012, the party decided that the management of the newspaper should be handled by a 'society', and accordingly the Daily Desher Katha Society was formed. In 2015, with Gautam Das getting more preoccupied with party work, the Society decided that it would appoint a new editor, publisher and printer - Samir Paul. In September this year, the Daily Desher Katha Society decided to convert the ownership into a 'Trust', and the Daily Desher Katha Trust came into being, with Gautam Das as chairman of the trust.
On October 1, the RNI issued a Revised Registration Certificate, which clearly stated that the proprietor of the newspaper was the Daily Desher Katha Trust and the editor was Samir Paul. This was also updated on their web portal. The District Magistrate apparently summoned the Sub-Divisional Magistrate who had authenticated the papers of Daily Desher Katha, and ordered him to cancel the authentication. He then communicated to the RNI that the authentication was cancelled, and the RNI at around 9.45 the same night emailed the information to the publisher of Daily Desher Katha.
The Editors Guild of India has condemned the decision. In a strongly worded statement, it said: "The Guild is of the view that cancellation of the registration of a publication on the mere finding that there was a mismatch between the information of the editor, printer and publisher is not only a gross overreaction but also a draconian step that throttles freedom of the media." It has demanded immediate revocation of the RNI order pending further inquiry into the charges of misinformation. "It also demands that a thorough inquiry is instituted by the government to investigate whether the decision was politically motivated," it said.
The courts may intervene and restore the newspaper in the days to come. The issue here is not about the final outcome of the legal battle, but about the chill factor the ruling party can create among news organisations. It is worth remembering Milton's saying four centuries ago: "Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties."
-(Courtesy: The Hindu)