HC notice to Assam govt over media fellowship

Guwahati: The Gauhati High Court has issued a notice to the Assam government over the exclusion of online media from its ‘Media Fellowship’ for 2020-21 and said the selection of candidates shall be subject to further orders.

Hearing a writ petition by senior journalist Anirban Roy, Justice Suman Shyam on Wednesday issued a notice of the motion, returnable on November 16.

The petitioner urged the court to allow journalists from online media houses to apply provisionally for the fellowship, the last date of which has been fixed on October 27, as interim relief.

“At this stage, I am not inclined to allow the said prayer. It is, however, made clear that the selection of candidate for conferring fellowship, if any, made in the meantime, shall be subject to further orders that may be passed in this writ petition,” the court said.

The government has now extended the deadline to November 3 in view of a fewer applications this time, a senior official of the Information and Public Relations Department said.

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Issuing a corrigendum on September 18, the Information and Public Relations Department Secretary N G Sonowal excluded “Online Media” from the eligibility criteria of the ‘Media Fellowship’ as the said format is not a part of the existing advertisement policy.

The petition made the Assam government, represented by the Additional Chief Secretary of Information and Public Relations Department, and the Secretary of the department as respondents in the case.

The petitioner stated in his petition that the corrigendum to deprive media fellowship to the online media journalists is illegal and not maintainable in law because the fellowship has no relation with the advertisement policy, 2008.

“The government action in issuing the corrigendum is discriminatory and arbitrary and as such the same is liable to be quashed and set aside,” it added.

The petition also refuted the government’s claim in the corrigendum and stated that the statement of the Advertisement Policy, 2008, not including online media or web portal is false and the department has been authorised to issue advertisements in all other media in addition to print media.

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It further pointed out that the government advertised the fellowship “only in the internet media” like Facebook and Twitter for wider dissemination, but on the other hand depriving the online journalists.

“…state government has shown a partisan attitude towards the online media/web portal journalists. They have not been given equal opportunities and status in any manner. The government has issued accreditation cards to TV journalists but the online journalists have not been given the card,” it added.

From 2017-18, the Assam government started media fellowship to 20 eligible journalists every year working in the state for their research works “for their continuous improvement of professional skills and upgradation of knowledge in journalism”.

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