Journalist associations severely crtiticised the Information and Broadcasting Ministry's decision of stringent punishment for spreading fake news.
In a joint statement, Press Club of India, Indian Women's Press Corps, Press Association and Federation of Press Clubs of India, expressed their "deep concern". They said: "There is ample scope for introspection and reform of journalistic practices; yet a government fiat restraining the fourth pillar of our democracy is not the solution.
A joint statement issued by the Press Club of India, Indian Women's Press Corps, Press Association and Federation of Press Clubs of Indi expressed their "deep concern" over the Monday order.
Following widespread criticism, Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked for a withdrawal of the order earlier in the day. The order issued on Monday night said that a journalist's accreditation would be suspended once a complaint of fake news was registered against him, which would be later determined by Press Council of India (PCI) and News Broadcasters Association (NBA). If found that the news was indeed fake, he or she could also lose their accreditation for a limited period or permanently and thus be denied access to government institutions.
Journalists and Opposition parties took a serious note of the order issued by the Information and Broadcasting ministry and described the guidelines as an attack on the freedom of press.
On Tuesday afternoon, the I&B Ministry said in a press release that the "Guidelines for Accreditation of Journalists amended to regulate Fake News issued on April 2 stand withdrawn".
A joint statement issued by the Press Club of India, Indian Women's Press Corps, Press Association and Federation of Press Clubs of India expressed their "deep concern" over the Monday order.
They said there was ample scope for introspection and reform of journalistic practices; yet a government fiat restraining the fourth pillar of our democracy was not the solution. "The Press Council of India was primarily set up to protect the freedom of the press, not to clamp down on it."
Here are the top 10 developments around the raging fake news debate, the I&B ministry's proposed guidelines to counter such news and the withdrawal of the guidelines after PM Narendra Modi's intervention:
1) Journalists condemn the decision:
"What was the need of the circular in the first place? The government would consider such a circular is worrisome," Sardesai said.
He said that the government was into the "business of propaganda", which was also "fake news" and added that the government should be kept away to discuss the subject of fake news, a point which was raised by other speakers also.
TV journalist Ravish Kumar said the opinion of journalists was not taken before Monday's circular was issued and added that such attacks would not stop.
2) Editors' Guid's reaction:
The Guild also points out that 'fake news' is a process that cannot be left to governments to initiate action when, on many occasions, the governments and the parties in power - both at the Centre and states - are charged with propagating fake news themselves. Moreover, news organisations are not the only source of generation of fake news with the country awash with digital platforms of all hues and opinions that operate without constraints and have the potential to cause far more damage.
Strongly condemning the government, the Editors Guild of India said, "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."
3) PM Modi was 'not consulted' by the I&B ministry:
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's quick intervention in the matter within hours shows that the PM is against the view of curbing "freedom of press". "(The) Prime Minister has directed that the press release regarding fake news be withdrawn and the matter should only be addressed in the Press Council of India," an official source said, reported IANS.
Sources said that the PMO was “not consulted” and was unaware of Irani’s directive until it became public. “A fuming Prime Minister told his office to direct the I&B Ministry to withdraw the directive with immediate effect,” said an official to the Indian Express
"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.
"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.
5) 'Feel free to meet me,' Smriti Irani welcomed suggestions from journalists:
I&B Minister Smriti Irani welcomed the journalists and organisations interested in meeting her and helping curb the menace of "fake news". She would be happy to engage in a debate with journalists to fight against fake news. In a tweet following the ministry's withdrawal of the earlier guidelines, she said, "Several journalists & organisations have reached out giving positive suggestions regarding the same."
PIB Accreditation Guidelines asking Press Council of India & News Broadcasters Association to define & act against ‘fake news’ have generated debate. Several journalists & organisations have reached out giving positive suggestions regarding the same. 1/2
— Smriti Z Irani (@smritiirani) April 3, 2018
6) Nothing wrong if the govt wants to regulate fake news, said Press Council of India:
Amid the criticism, Press Council of India supported the ministry's decision to regulate the circulation of fake news. "There is nothing wrong or obnoxious if a government intended to take remedial steps to check fake news, but an independent statutory authority should decide on its veracity," the Press Council of India said. The PCI, in a statement signed by chairman Justice (retd) C K Prasad. "No prudent person should or can justify the dissemination of fake news," it added.
7) Government can't control press, says Press Club of India President: Criticising the government's move to control the 'free media', Press Club of India President Gautam Lahiri said: “The government has no mandate to control the press. The media was also worried about growing incidents of fake news, but the Press Council is the right platform to deal with complaints regarding any fake news.”
Veteran journalist H K Dua said: “The press release is totally bogus and it has dangerous connotations. The government wants to control the press. Who decides what is true and what is not? The I&B ministry? Maximum lies are planted by the government in the media.”
8) Press Council of India was expected to check the veracity of news: I&B Ministry guidelines had suggested that any complaints regarding fake news in the print media would be referred to Press Council of India. If the news related to the electronic media, it would be sent to News Broadcasters Association. The result was expected within 15 days by these agencies, the ministry had said in its earlier press release.
9) Amnesty International welcomes government's withdrawal move: "The withdrawal of the Information and Broadcasting Ministry's order is welcome. This appeared to be a brazen attempt to control the media under the façade of controlling fake news and target critics of the government," Aakar Patel, Executive Director, Amnesty International India, said in a statement.
He said several government spokespersons have been known to disseminate disinformation "which they should know to be false, on social media and on television. This dangerous trend needs to stop".
10) Editors Guild of India condemned the I&B move:
Editors Guild of India had condemned the arbitrary manner contemplated by the Union Information and Broadcasting Ministry ostensibly to penalise any journalist or media organisation publishing fake news. "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, it added.
Journalist propagating false news could be blacklisted, says Smriti Irani's ministry:
The I&B ministry's proposed rules against fake news and news guidelines for journalists stated that the accreditation of journalists found creating or propagating any kind of fake news could be permanently cancelled, and they could be blacklisted for life.
Smriti Irani Ministry's 'Anti-Fake news rules are Rajiv Gandhi redux? The Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) report on the Bofors scam and VP Singh's victory in the Allahabad by-election had rattled Rajiv Gandhi. He had then introduced the defamation Bill on August 29, 1988, ostensibly to gag the media. It sought to create new offences of "criminal imputation" and "scurrilous writings".
Faced with unprecedented defiance from the media, and growing opposition from several quarters, he realised that anything short of withdrawal was going to damage the ruling party's sagging fortunes further. On September 22, 1988, Rajiv Gandhi withdrew the bill. In just 24 days, a government with the support of maximum MPs in the Lok Sabha, made this U-turn.