The circular, a copy of which was accessed by The Indian Express, has upset the Chennai Union of Journalists (CUJ), which sent a petition to the Press Council of India (PCI) seeking action against city police commissioner S George. The union alleged that press in charge officers had been appointed despite the city police already having an in-house PR department.
A senior officer defended the move, saying that the idea was to reach out to crime reporters and keep them in good humour. However, he added, Not all officers were on board since they were told they would be pulled up if any negative report was published by reporters assigned to them. The circular was meant to be an internal arrangement, the officer said.
Another senior official said that the money allotted to the Tamil Nadu police under the category of special reward amount will be spent on the new exercise. It is an exercise in networking, lobbying and influencing reporters to make sure that the news flow can be controlled by the police, he said.
The CUJ petition said that the new system was meant to coax, cajole, bribe and bully the concerned journalists to ensure that no negative news appears in any dailies.
Placing journalists under the supervision of a police officer without their knowledge is an act of intimidation and a serious threat to free and fair journalism, said the petition sent to PCI chairman Markandey Katju.
Last month, George had called a special media briefing on crime statistics after several questions were raised in the Tamil Nadu Assembly on the increasing crime rate. According to official data, the city witnessed 85 murders in the past one year.
The police circular makes no mention of visual media journalists. The most unethical part is that they profiled these reporters without their knowledge. When there is a PR department, what is the purpose of deploying officers, that too of the rank of deputy commissioner and assistant commissioner, to handle media persons individually, said a senior journalist working with a Tamil daily.
When contacted, Chennai police joint commissioner V Varadharaju denied forming any such internal teams. We have a public relations officer and a deputy PRO, who are in charge of all PR, he said. George was not available for comment.