Press bodies slam I&B ministry's contentious guidelines as attempt to 'restrain media'

Several prominent journalists and representatives of press bodies today slammed the I&B ministry's contentious guidelines on fake news as an attempt to restrain the media and welcomed their retraction.

Senior reporters from various print media organisations, anchors from well-known TV channels, and representatives from the Press Club Of India, Press Association, Indian Journalists Union (IJU), National Union of Journalists (NUJ), Indian Women's Press Corps, held a joint meeting here under the aegis of the Press Club over the government's move, which they described as "deeply worrying".

A statement by the Editors Guild of India was also read out during the meet, which strongly condemned 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 statement said.

Senior TV journalist Ravish Kumar alleged it was a "ground testing" being done by the government, in an attempt to "shackle the journalists" from telling the truth.

He also said the government has not made any laws to regulate Facebook and other social media, even though some of the foreign countries have started that process.

Veteran journalist K H Dua, when contacted, said the move has "revealed the psychology" behind it, although they have "wisely withdrawn" it.

"Press has to be very vigilant against such moves again in some form or the other. I would like to ask whether the ministry of information and broadcasting is going to be re-designated as the ministry of truth," he said.

Senior journalist Rajdeep Sardesai alleged the move was used as a "fig leaf to target us (journalists)".

"While we acknowledge the problem of fake news, but the government should not be made a stakeholder in deciding what constitutes fake news, more so, when a lot of government-sponsored websites and channels peddle fake news themselves," he alleged.

"While we welcome the retraction of the guidelines, the question is why was it needed in the first place," he said.

Sardesai also suggested that the media fraternity should "name and shame" the "habitual offenders" in the field of media, who purvey fake news.

A joint statement by several media bodies was also released at the end of the meet, saying, "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."

The joint statement said, "We welcome and appreciate the retraction as it is in the interests of protecting the independence of the Fourth Estate."

Jaishankar Gupta, President of the Press Association, an organisation of PIB-accredited journalists, also expressed his concern over the move, saying, "What is fake news and who will define it."

He also questioned the recent decision of the I&B ministry to reconstitute the Central Press Accreditation Committee (CPAC), which issues Press Information Bureau (PIB) cards to journalists, making it leaner from a 22-member to an eight-member body.

Indian Journalists Union (IJU) vice-president Sabina Inderjit said this eventuality was "building up" over a period of time. "Had people protested the CPAC reconstitution, this would not have happened today," she said.

In a press release last night, the I&B ministry had announced punitive measures such as cancellation of accreditation to contain fake news, a decision which was dubbed by journalist and opposition parties as an attempt to curb press freedom ahead of the general elections due by 2019.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi today ordered the I&B Ministry to cancel its contentious guidelines on fake news after widespread criticism and outcry by journalists and the opposition who dubbed these norms an attempt to "muzzle" the free press.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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