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C’garh CM tries to woo sulking scribes with legislative incentive

If the bill is passed in the state assembly, the state will be one of the few states with similar laws to safeguard the interests of the journalists.

Ajaybhan Singh | Raipur | Updated :

With less than a year to go for the decisive assembly polls, the Congress government in Chhattisgarh has come up with the ‘Protection of Media Personnel Act’, apparently to placate the journalist fraternity that has long been alleging suppression of free speech in the state.

A cabinet meeting chaired by Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel cleared the draft Bill of ‘Chhattisgarh Media Persons Protection Act’. If passed in the state assembly where the Congress enjoys an absolute majority, Chhattisgarh will be one of the few states with similar laws to safeguard the interests of the journalists.

According to the proposed law, a journalist having at least six articles published in the mass media in three months, or received at least three payments for news gathering from any media organisation in the last six months, or published photographs at least three times in three months will be considered a media personnel. Besides, freelance journalists and columnists will be covered under the proposed law.

The government will set up an authority consisting of two media persons, including a woman, for the registration of journalists within 30 days of the law coming into force. Similarly, a media personnel protection committee will also be formed within 30 days of the implementation of the law. The committee will look into complaints of harassment, intimidation or violence or wrongful prosecution and arrest of journalists.

The government also plans to launch a website in which every information or complaint related to journalists and the action taken in that regard will be recorded. Risk management units in each district will also be formed, as per the provisions of the proposed law.

The Congress dispensation seems to have decided to make peace with sulking scribes who were promised moon in the grand old party’s election manifesto in 2018. However, in a volte face, the government tried to muzzle the voice of the free media. Nava Raipur Development Authority, for instance, razed the residence of former ‘Aaj-Tak’ journalist Sunil Namdev who is viewed as one of the staunch critics of Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel last year.

He was allegedly made to drink sanitizer by the police in a bid to eliminate him in March 2021 when he was in their custody after being booked in a case. His wife Manmeet Kaur Sohal registered a complaint with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in this regard.

Similarly, Raipur police arrested Nilesh Sharma, editor of a lesser known web portal and print magazine ‘India writers’ last year for publishing political satire. Madhukar Dubey, the editor of a news portal zeroparty, along with his technical assistant, was jailed for publishing a news item against Congress leaders which was dubbed as misleading.

Bhupendra Singh, an RTI activist from Patan, the hometown of CM Baghel, was threatened, arrested and jailed in January 2020 for his voicing against the state CM and his close aide Saumya Chaurasiya.