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Editors Say Government Acts Threaten Freedom of Expression

February 16, 1985

NEW DELHI, India (AP) _ A group of leading Indian editors today criticized some government actions as threatening freedom of expression and said journalism has become a ″risky profession.″

The Editors’ Guild of India also criticized the ″continuing imbalance and distortion in the newscasts″ of state-controlled All-India Radio and Television.

″The Guild is compelled to protest in the strongest terms possible against certain actions by officialdom which are a threat to freedom of expression,″ it said in a resolution passed at its annual meeting Friday and released today.

It cited the confiscation in Punjab of a report by two civil liberties’ groups on the anti-Sikh riots after the Oct. 30 assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and the threat to prosecute the publisher for sedition. It called those actions illegal.

It also referred to the criminal case against Associated Press reporter Brahma Chellaney, an Indian citizen, who faces charges of sedition, censorship violation and inciting communal discord in connection with his reporting last June on the army operation in the Sikh-dominated state of Punjab.

The charges are preliminary and have not been formally presented to a magistrate. Chellaney was the only representative of a foreign news organization in Amritsar during the army assault on the Golden Temple, the holiest Sikh shrine.

Authorities also have impounded Chellaney’s passport and have not renewed his 1985 press accreditation.

Of his case, the Guild said, ″Resort to the law of sedition to curb journalists from carrying out their professional duties, as evident in the case of an Indian journalist, Brahma Chellaney, is becoming infectious and must be ended.″

Last month, the Guild urged the government to drop the case and said the charges ″go ill with the government’s claim that it believes in freedom of the press.″

In the resolution, the editors also said, ″The criminalization of politics and the desire to avoid or evade public accountability have made journalism an increasingly risky profession.″

It said a large number of physical assaults and ″cold-blooded murders″ of journalists have taken place in the last year.

″There is urgent need to devise adequate steps to ensure that journalists engaged in professional duties have adequate safety and access to sources of news,″ it said.

″The growing tendency to resort to repressive measures against journalists″ must be checked, it said, especially in small towns, outlying districts and remote regions such as the troubled northeast state of Tripura.

The editors also said state-run radio and television are biased and lack credibility. ″Those who handle these programs are obviously under heavy official pressure to forget their commitment to keep the public fully informed of the totality of events,″ they said.

″The misuse of the electronic media has made the news and the commentaries based on it highly suspect,″ the resolution said.

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