IN an unprecedented move in an election year, the Information and Broadcasting Ministry has amended guidelines for journalists’ accreditation stating that if a journalist is found to have “created and/or propagated” fake news, the journalist’s accreditation will be suspended or permanently cancelled.
In a press release issued Monday evening, it said that the Press Council of India and News Broadcasters Association (NBA), 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.
A journalist is accredited with the Press Information Bureau of the Centre after she/he has least “five years’ experience as a full-time working journalist.” Freelance journalists need to have 15 years experience and foreign correspondents five years with a valid work visa.
The press release justified the amendment by claiming an increase in the “instances of fake news in various mediums including print and electronic media.”
On receiving “any complaints of such instances of fake news,” the statement said, it would be referred to the Press Council of India if it pertains to print media and to NBA if it relates to electronic media, “for determination of the news item being fake or not”.
The Accreditation Committee of the Press Information Bureau, the ministry said, which consists of representatives of both the Press Council of India and NBA “shall be invariably be reached out to for validating any accreditation request of any news media agency”.
If publishing or telecast of fake news is confirmed, the statement said, the journalist’s accreditation shall be suspended for 6 months for first violation, one year for second violation and will be permanently cancelled if there is a third violation.
Additionally, the ministry said, that while examining the requests seeking accreditation, the regulatory agencies “will examine whether the `Norms of Journalistic Conduct’ and `Code of Ethics and Broadcasting Standards’ prescribed by the PCI and NBA respectively are adhered to by the journalists” and it would be “obligatory for journalists to abide by these guidelines”.
When contacted by The Indian Express, Annie Joseph, Secretary General of the NBA, said that she was not “aware” of the order, nor was she aware of any consultation with the NBA regarding the issue. Chairman of the Press Council of India Justice C K Prasad did not respond to a text message or a call.