I&B ministry withdraws guidelines to regulate fake news, Congress terms decision a victory of democracy, media

A day after the The I&B Ministry sent out a circular stating that the accreditation of a journalist, found to have "created and/or propagated" fake news, will be suspended or permanently cancelled, the Prime Minister's Office Tuesday ordered its withdrawal.

I&B Ministry guidelines on accreditation of journalists posting 'fake' news Union I&B Minister Smriti Irani said the Press Council of India and the News Broadcasters Association, which are not “regulated/operated” by the government, will determine whether the news is fake or not. (Express Photo/Prem Nath Pandey/File)

A day after the The I&B Ministry sent out a circular stating that the accreditation of a journalist, found to have “created and/or propagated” fake news, will be suspended or permanently cancelled, the Prime Minister’s Office Tuesday ordered its withdrawal. The PMO, it is learnt, directed that the matter be addressed in the Press Council on India.

Drawing widespread criticism from journalists and even some Opposition members on Tuesday, I&B Minister Smriti Irani invited suggestions from journalists and organisations on fighting “the menace of ‘fake news'”. Taking to Twitter, she said, “.@MIB_India is more than happy to engage with journalist body or organisation/s wanting to give suggestions so that together we can fight the menace of ‘fake news’ & uphold ethical journalism. Interested journalists and/or organisations may feel free to meet me at @MIB_India.”

Read | In name of fake news, Government frames rules to blacklist journalists

The Editors Guild of India strongly condemned the “arbitrary” measure contemplated by the I&B Ministry to regulate fake news. It said the Ministry’s decision was meant to “browbeat and muzzle the press.”

“By notifying that the I & B Ministry will initiate such proceedings, the Government was arrogating for itself the role of policing the media. It would have opened the door for frivolous complaints to harass journalists and organisations to fall in line,” the Editors Guild said.

READ | PM Modi wants guideline spiked; Smriti Irani says more than happy to engage with Press

Here are reactions to the I&B Ministry’s order on fake news

  1. 5:23PM
    03 Apr, 18
    Editors Guild condemns 'draconian' fake news guidelines contemplated by I&B Ministry

    The Editors Guild of India strongly condemned the "arbitrary" and "draconian" measure contemplated by the I&B Ministry to regulate fake news. It said the Ministry's decision was meant to "browbeat and muzzle the press."

    "By notifying that the I&B Ministry will initiate such proceedings, the Government was arrogating for itself the role of a Nanny State. It would have opened the door for frivolous complaints to harass journalists and organisations to fall in line," the Editors Guild said. 

    The Guild also acknowledged the intervention of the Prime Minister’s Office to withdraw the I&B Ministry’s notification but added that it remains deeply disturbed that faith continues to be reposed on the Press Council of India to deliver justice on such issues.

  2. 3:13PM
    03 Apr, 18
    Fake news order withdrawal a victory of democracy, media: Congress

    Senior Congress leader Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil said that the Centre's withdrawal of a press release on 'fake news' within 24 hours of issuing it was a victory of democracy and the media. He alleged that through the press release on fake news, the I&B Ministry had attempted to bring restrictions on the media's autonomy. 

    "The government had to withdraw it (the press release) within 24 hours and this is a big victory of democracy and the media. I congratulate all journalists who unitedly opposed the decision," said Vikhe Patil, the Leader of Opposition in the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly.

  3. 2:58PM
    03 Apr, 18

    Speaking to Hindustan Times on Monday night after the order was publicised, Anant Goenka, executive director at the Indian Express Group, said: "Firstly, majority of fake news stems from anonymous websites, many of which are alleged to have dubious relationships with various political parties across the spectrum both in India and over the world. Since this move by government ignores the digital platform, it isn't going to come near solving the problem of fake news. In fact, the growth of journalism-first news brands like the Express is testimony to the demand of credible content. Secondly, a look towards the US will show you just how difficult it can be to be the arbiter of what may be a journalist's innocuous error and an intent to spread factually false information. History has shown us that no matter what the mistake, governments anywhere in the world shouldn't be involved in deciding the punishment for free Press."

  4. 2:05PM
    03 Apr, 18

    Meanwhile, Look who is busting fake news for 13 Ministers — a site with an Exam Warriors link. At least 13 Union Ministers, including Smriti Irani, over the last two days, have tweeted a link to a website, www.thetruepicture.in, which claims to have busted “four major fake news stories.” Seven of the ministers added the same comment: “Raise your voice against the fake news.” Read more here. 

  5. 1:42PM
    03 Apr, 18

    Many journalists have responded to the I&B Ministry's order. While Shekhar Gupta, editor of The Print called it a "breathtaking assault on mainstream media", Vineet Jain differentiated between fake news — "'news' that's been created with CONSCIOUS knowledge that it's not true" — and inaccurate reporting, which can be corrected.

  6. 1:35PM
    03 Apr, 18

    Monday's order has been reported by the international press. Citing the Indian government's "disdain" for the media, UK's Financial Times says the Indian media operates under "heavy constraints".

    It writes: "While India touts itself as the world’s largest democracy, its media operates under heavy constraints. The most recent World Press Freedom Index — issued by the media advocacy group Reporters Without Borders — ranked India 136 out of 180, down three spots from the previous year."

    "Since coming to power in 2014, Mr Modi’s government made little secret of its disdain for the mainstream media, making efforts to bypass it with adroit use of alternative channels," it adds. Reports have appeared in other dailies as well, including The Washington Post.

  7. 1:01PM
    03 Apr, 18
    Togadia condemns the 'undemocratic' move

    Reacting to the I&B Ministry's order, VHP leader Pravin Togadia condemns the "undemocratic" move. "This is nothing but undeclared Emergency. Media is the fourth pillar of democracy. Curtailing their voices in any name is dangerous to citizen's rights."

    He adds, "This is the dangerous tendency by the rulers and we fear that it could even manifest in other areas of common people's lives or for those who speak for the people. We appeal to all concerned not to bring in such draconian rules."

  8. 12:58PM
    03 Apr, 18
    PMO directs withdrawal of order

    It is learnt that the PMO has directed that the press released, issued on Monday by the I&B Ministry, be withdrawn and that the matter be addressed in the Press Council on India. 

  9. 12:38PM
    03 Apr, 18
    Irani invites suggestions to fight fake news

    I&M Minister Smriti Irani says the Ministry is more than happy to engage with journalists and organisations to fight fake news. "Interested journalists and/or organisations may feel free to meet me," she tweets.

  10. 12:35PM
    03 Apr, 18

    Members of the Opposition have reacted to the order. CPI(M)'s Sitaram Yechury tweeted earlier today, "We fought for Press freedom during the Emergency, then against the Defamation Bill. We condemn this duplicitous move of Modi govt where in the garb of Fake News, it will attack all the news it finds uncomfortable. We stand for, and are committed to a free and independent Press."

    West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, taking to Twitter as well, said, "The PIB circular on #FakeNews control is a brazen attempt to curb press freedom, a sure sign that the Govt has lost its way. We demand the immediate withdrawal of such a draconian move. And what about #FakeNews spread by a political party on a regular basis ?"

  11. 12:30PM
    03 Apr, 18

    The I&B Ministry has amended guidelines for journalists' accreditation, stating that if a journalist is found to have “created and/or propagated” fake news, his or her accreditation will be suspended or permanently cancelled. The move has led to widespread condemnation. We track the latest news here.