New Delhi: The Editors Guild on Wednesday urged the Finance Ministry to lift the ‘gag’ on media freedom in view of the restrictions imposed on the entry of media persons into North Block in New Delhi. Notably, the restrictions are applicable to even government-accredited journalists and they are denied access to the Finance Ministry’s offices in North Block, without prior appointment.

As per the clarification issued by the office of the Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Tuesday, a procedure has been put in place for ‘streamlining and facilitating’ the entry of media persons inside the ministry of finance. This means there is ‘no ban is in place’ on the entry of media persons in the ministry. Despite the clarification, the Editors Guild asked the Finance Minister to withdraw the ‘arbitrary decision’.

Condemning the ‘arbitrary decision’, the guild also said that it has no dispute with the ministry in terms of how journalists should behave with restraint and responsibility while enjoying their access to the finance ministry.

The Editors Guild, however, stated that a blanket order is not the answer. “Journalists do not go to government offices to enjoy the comforts and hospitality of visitors’ rooms designated for them. They go to perform their challenging job of news gathering,” it asserted. “This order is a gag on media freedoms and can even result in a further fall in India’s global press freedom rankings, especially as the contagion can easily spread to other ministries as well,” the Editors Guild said.

If the finance minister believes that journalists’ access to government offices is causing some inconveniences, the system could be improved in discussions with journalists, stated the guild. As precedence, North Block, the seat of the finance ministry, has only been out of bounds for journalists during the pre-budget quarantine period, which is about two months.

However, even after the presentation of 2019-20 Budget on July 5, security personnel manning the gates of the ministry were not allowing the entry of journalists, without an appointment, even the Press Information Bureau-accredited ones.

(With Agency inputs)