The Budget exercise always starts with the “halwa” ceremony and ends with debates. But this time, it has ended on a bitter note. Finance Minister Nirmala Sithararman’s decision to restrict entry of media, including those who hold Press Information Bureau (PIB) accreditation in the Finance Ministry, has raised questions over the very sanctity of the accreditation itself. Now, Sitharaman can lay down rules for her Ministry, but can she do so for journalists? Besides, why should journalists need accreditation if it does not serve its purpose? The PIB is a wing of the Information and Broadcasting Ministry which gives accreditation to journalists based on government guidelines. Sufficient due diligence is undertaken before it is issued.

According to the guidelines, ‘Accreditation’ means “recognition of news media representatives by the Government of India for purpose of access to sources of information in the Government and also to news materials, written or pictorial, released by the Press Information Bureau and/or other agencies of the Government of India”. Does this move also mean that the government wants journalists to reveal their sources as well? Though the Finance Ministry has maintained that “media persons holding PIB card will not require a separate entry pass after the appointment is fixed”, who will give appointments when the officials feel they are watched? “Media persons are always flocking the corridors of North Block. Some even breach certain limits,” said a senior official in the Finance Ministry. “We are here to work,” said another officer.

The Ministry now has issued a clarification stating that there is no ban on the entry of media persons, but a procedure has been laid down for streamlining and facilitating their entry inside the Ministry of Finance, North Block. And the journalists, including those holding PIB accredited cards, will be allowed in on the basis of prior appointment.

The Minister wanting to put in a system in place is fine, but this could have been done after some discussion. Besides, if this is going to be a new norm, then it puts a question mark over the purpose and meaning of PIB’s accreditation process.