In the wake of the widespread criticism and outcry, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday ordered the Information and Broadcasting (I&B) Ministry to overturn its contentious guidelines on fake news, which contained punitive measures like the cancellation of a journalist’s accreditation if he/she is found generating or propagating fake news.
Soon after PM’s intervention, the I&B ministry issued a statement saying guidelines issued late last night by it “to regulate fake news…stands withdrawn.”
The I&B ministry’s announcement last night drew severe criticism from journalists and opposition parties, which dubbed the decision as an attempt to curb press freedom ahead of the 2019 general elections.
“PM has directed that the press release regarding the fake news be withdrawn and the matter should only be addressed by the Press Council of India,” a senior PMO official said, adding that the PM was of the view that the government should not interfere in the matter.
Following the withdrawal of the press release, I&B Minister Smriti Irani tweeted that the PIB accreditation guidelines asking Press Council of India and News Broadcasters Association to define and act against ‘fake news’ have generated debate. “Several journalists and organisations have reached out giving positive suggestions regarding the same,” she said. Irani said the I&B Ministry was “more than happy to engage with journalist bodies or organisations wanting to give suggestions so that together we can fight the menace of ‘fake news’ and uphold ethical journalism”.
Yesterday, the ministry had stated that the Press Council of India and News Broadcasters Association, the two regulatory bodies for print and television media respectively, will determine whether the news is fake or not. While I&B Minister Smriti Irani said that both these bodies were not “regulated/operated” by the government, her Ministry’s statement was the one that defined the punishment and left both the definition of fake news and the nature of the complaint open-ended.
Once a complaint is registered for “determination of fake news,” the Ministry’s statement said, the accreditation of the journalist who “created and/or propagated the fake news” will be “suspended till such time the determination regarding the fake news is made by the regulating agencies mentioned above”. It also stated that the determination is “expected to be completed within 15 days” by the regulating agencies.
Editors Guild condemns I&B Ministry’s ‘arbitrary measure’
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.
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. READ MORE
How political parties have reacted to the fake news order
The Congress stated that fascism has touched its peak as it sought to “muzzle” independent voices through “fallacious” rules, while the AAP and CPI-M likened the situation to the ’emergency’.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi took a dig at the central government for reversing its own order. “Sensing mounting anger on the “fake news” notification, the PM orders a U-Turn on his own order. One can clearly see a loss of control and panic setting in now,” Gandhi tweeted.
Sensing mounting anger on the “fake news” notification, the PM orders a U-Turn on his own order.
One can clearly see a loss of control and panic setting in now. #BasEkAurSaal
— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) April 3, 2018
“The government has no mandate to control the press. The media were also worried about growing incidents of fake news but the Press Council is the right platform to deal with complaints regarding any fake news,” president of the Press Club of India Gautam Lahiri said.
“Fascism reaches its ‘nadir’ as a shaky Modi Government, caught in its web of lies, seeks to muzzle all independent voices in media through fallacious rules!,” Congress communications in-charge Randeep Surjewala tweeted.
Senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel also questioned the government’s attempt to check fake news asking whether it is an attempt to prevent reporters from reporting news uncomfortable to the establishment.
Describing the attempt as a “brazen and draconian” move to curb press freedom, West Bengal Chief Minister and TMC chief Mamata Banerjee said it showed the government “has lost its way”. “What about fake news spread by a political party on a regular basis?” she asked on Twitter without naming any party.
Recalling the fight for press freedom during days of the emergency (imposed for 21 months between 1975 and 1977), CPI-M leader Sitaram Yechury said his party condemned the “duplicitous” move. He accused the government of attacking the media in the garb of fake news over news it finds “uncomfortable”.
“We stand for, and are committed to a free and independent Press,” the Left leader tweeted.
“It is like an undeclared emergency. The Government wants to gag the Press. They want the Press to write what the Government wants,” said CPI-leader Mohammed Salim.
AAP leader Ashutosh said “Till now there was an informal emergency on media, except few all were scared, and fell in line. Now formal emergency. Who is govt to regulate press ? And will journalists raise their voice against this draconian rule ? Like they did against Rajiv Gandhi on defamation law ? I doubt !!”