The Editors Guild of India and several other media bodies today strongly condemned the information and broadcasting ministry's unsuccessful move to "police" the media by seeking to punish journalists for fake news.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Tuesday charged that Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a U-turn on his "own order" on fake news, and said one could clearly see "a loss of control and panic setting in".
Earlier Prime Minister Narendra Modi has directed that the press release regarding the crackdown on the menace of fake news issued by the Union Information & Broasting ministry be withdrawn. He stated that the matter should only be addressed in Press Council of India, as reported in ANI.
The Information & Broadcasting Ministry, led by Smriti Irani on Monday laid down the amended guidelines in a press release stating that the accreditation of a journalist could be permanently cancelled if the scribe is found generating or propagating fake news. The press release also cited an increase in “instances of fake across various mediums, including print and electronic media,” the new guidelines propose that the government would permanently cancel the accreditation of journalists found guilty or creating or disseminating fake news.
The withdrawal decision by PM Modi comes at a time when Union Minister Smriti Irani was asking for suggestions on Twitter to fight the menace of ‘fake news’ to uphold ethical journalism. "Interested journalists and/or organisations may feel free to meet me at @MIB_India", Smriti Irani had tweeted.
.@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. 2/2
— Smriti Z Irani (@smritiirani) April 3, 2018
Editors Guild condemns government order
The Editors Guild of India condenmed the Fake News order passed by the I&B ministry. Here is the full statement of the Editors Guild:
The Editors Guild of India strongly condemns the arbitrary manner contemplated by the Union Information and Broadcasting (I &B) 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.
The Guild acknowledges the intervention of the Prime Minister's Office to withdraw the I & B Ministry's notification but remains deeply disturbed that faith continues to be reposed on the Press Council of India to deliver justice on such issues. The recent reconstitution of the Press Council of India has been done in a manner that gives rise to doubts over the independence of the institution and its ability to play neutral umpire. The Guild's nominees to the Council were disallowed on technical grounds. Also, the recent reconstitution of the Central Press Accreditation Committee has raised questions over the non-transparent processes being followed by the I & B Ministry as the Guild's application was ignored.
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.
The Guild has always stood for observing the highest journalistic standards and is willing to work with the Central Government, state governments and media bodies to define what can be constituted as 'fake news' and take action against those found guilty of propagating such news without compromising on the independence and freedom of the media.
A conflict of interest?
The move to clamp down on fake news by the government has been questioned by Congress leader Ahmed Patel as an attempt to prevent reporting news that is uncomfortable to the establishment. He also asked who would determine if a reported news item was "fake", and expressed apprehension that the rules might be misused to harass reporters.
Union minister Smriti Irani refuted claims of government interference in press freedom. Responding to the criticism on Twitter, she replied that PCI and NBA, neither controlled by the government, will ascertain whether a news is fake or not.
Glad to see you awake @ahmedpatel ji whether a News article / broadcast is fake or not will be determined by PCI & NBA; both of whom I’m sure you know are not controlled/ operated by GOI.
— Smriti Z Irani (@smritiirani) April 2, 2018
Meanwhile, Former Delhi CM Sheila Dikshit criticised the new guidelines as an attempt to kill democracy. Speaking to ANI, she said "What is the definition of fake news? In a democratic system, restricting media is equal to killing democracy. Today, we only get to see news that is pro-govt. India has believed in free media and that should continue".
What were the guidelines
The guidelines issued by the Union Information & Broasting ministry on Monday state that if the publication or telecast of fake news is confirmed, the accreditation of the journalist behind it would be suspended for a period of six months in the case of first violation. In the event of a second violation, the accreditation would be suspended for a period of one year. In the case of a third violation, however, his or her accreditation would be cancelled permanently.
The determinant body regarding any complaint for fake news would be the Press Council of India (PCI) for print media, and the News Broadcasters Association (NBA) for the electronic media. The ministry said the determination was expected to be completed within 15 days by these agencies.
The accreditation of the journalist who created and/or propagated the fake news would be suspended till the determination regarding the fake news is made after the complaint being registered, the ministry said.
The Accreditation Committee of the Press Information Bureau (PIB), which consists of representatives of both the PCI and the NBA, would be reached out for validating any accreditation request of any news media agency.
While examining the requests seeking accreditation, the regulatory agencies would check whether the Norms of Journalistic Conduct' and Code of Ethics and Broadcasting Standards', prescribed by the PCI and NBA, respectively, are adhered to by journalists as part of their functioning. It would be obligatory for journalists to abide by these guidelines.
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”.