Fake News Order Withdrawn After PM’s Intervention
Minister Narendra Modi on April 3 stepped in to do damage control by nipping in the bud controversial move on “fake news” guideline controversy which was initiated by the Information & Broadcasting Minister Smriti Irani to penalize journalists allegedly involved in generating “fake news” content. Clearly unhappy over the Information & Broadcasting Ministry’s directive to cancel the accreditation of journalists found propagating fake news, the PM ordered the I&B Ministry to withdraw its contentious guidelines. The PM intervened after I&B Minister Smriti Irani faced widespread criticism and outcry by journalists and Opposition parties who all in tandem dubbed these norms as “an attempt to ‘muzzle’ the free press”.
To be sure, senior PMO officials swung into action within hours of the I&B ministry issuing a press release that almost instantly got torn down as a government effort aimed at disciplining the media. On the issue of fake news guidelines, the Prime Minister ordered that the Ministry should not interfere or give directions into the powers of Press Council of India (PCI) with regard to its powers in taking action against the fake news or wrong news or any actions related to the complaints received on the news reports. It was made clear that the issue of fake news was not in the government domain, but a subject for the Press
Council of India and other self-regulatory bodies to handle. The PMO also made it clear that it did not want a controversy on freedom of speech in its hands.
There was a provision to penalize journalists found guilty of generating fake news content.
To put things in perspective, after the Prime Minister’s orders, the I&B Ministry issued a statement saying that, “Press release regarding fake news put out by it stands withdrawn”. A senior PMO official said that, “The PM has directed that the Press release regarding the fake news be withdrawn and the matter should only be addressed by the Press Council of India.” The official also added that, “The Prime Minister was also of the view that the Government should not interfere in the matter.”
While amending the guidelines for accreditation of journalists, the I&B Ministry on the night of April 2 announced norms to contain fake news. The guidelines said that if the publication or telecast of fake news was confirmed, accreditation of the journalist would be suspended for six months in case of first violation and for one year in case of a second violation. In case of a third violation, his or her accreditation would be cancelled permanently.
No wonder, this attracted a fury of tsunami of anger among journalists and opposition parties as also from press bodies. The Congress said fascism has touched its peak as it sought to “muzzle” independent voices through “fallacious” rules. The AAP and the CPI(M) likened the situation to the “emergency”. Gautam
Lahiri who is the President of the Press Club of India minced no words in stating categorically that, “The Government has no mandate to control the Press. The media is also worried about growing incidents of fake news but the Press Council is the right platform to deal with
While amending the guidelines for accreditation of journalists, the I&B Ministry on the night of April 2 announced norms to contain fake news. The guidelines said that if the publication or telecast of fake news was confirmed, accreditation of the journalist would be suspended for six months in case of first violation and for one year in case of a second violation.
complaints regarding any fake news.”
It is noteworthy that soon after the withdrawal of the controversial order, I&B Minister Smriti Irani tweeted that, “PIB Accreditation Guidelines asking Press Council of India & News Broadcasters Association to define and act against ‘fake news’ have generated debate. Several journalists and organizations have reached out giving positive suggestions regarding the same. I&B Ministry is more than happy to engage with journalist body or organization/s wanting to give suggestions so that together we can fight the menace of ‘fake news’ and uphold ethical journalism. Interested journalists and/or organizations may feel free to meet me.”
Reacting strongly, veteran journalist HK Dua lashed out saying that, “The press release is totally bogus and it has dangerous connotations. That means, the Government wants to control the Press. Who decides what is true and what is not true? The I&B Ministry will decide what is true and not true? Maximum lies are planted by the Government in the media…” Congress communications in-charge Randeep Surjewala tweeted that, “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.” Another senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel too 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.
Going forward, West Bengal Chief Minister and TMC chief Mamata Banerjee termed the attempt as a “brazen and draconian move to curb
Press freedom and it showed the Government has lost its way.” While protesting the I&B order, she said that, “The PIB circular on Fake News control is a brazen attempt to curb press freedom, a sure sign that the government has lost its way. We demand the immediate withdrawal of such a draconian move. And what about fake news spread by a political party on a regular basis.” Recalling the fight for press freedom during days of the emergency which was imposed for 21 months between 1975 and 1977, CPI(M) leader
Sitaram Yechury said his party condemned the “duplicitous” move. He also stated that, “We fought for Press freedom during the Emergency, then against the Defamation Bill. We condemn this duplicitous move of Modi government where in the garb of fake news, it will attack all the news it finds uncomfortable. We stand for, and are committed to a free and independent Press.” Congress President Rahul Gandhi tweeted: “Sensing mounting anger on the fake news notification, the PM orders a U-Turn on his own orders. One can clearly see a loss of control and panic setting in now.”
Who to check?
Having said this, it must also be brought out here that the withdrawn statement wasn’t without supporters. The Press Council of India (PCI), which according to the statement, was supposed to adjudicate complaints against print media journalists regarding fake news, supported the I&B ministry. PCI Chairperson Justice CK Prasad while putting across his viewpoint stated explicitly that, “We have been having consultations on the menace of paid news and fake news for some time now. My personal view is that determination of paid and fake news and of the penal action depending on the severity and frequency of the occurrence should be done by an independent body such as the PCI and not by any government regulated body.” The Editors Guild while acknowledging the PMO’s intervention added that it remains ‘deeply disturbed’ that faith continues to be reposed on the Press Council of India to deliver justice on such issues.
Not to be left behind, Anant Goenka who is
“It is a big relief that the Prime Minister has withdrawn the MIB’s error. Historically any attempt by the government to interfere with free press in India, be it under Rajiv Gandhi, Indira Gandhi or even Vasundhara Raje’s defamation ordinance has always been thrown out. I am happy that the industry was quick to mobilize against the odd press released by the MIB.”
Executive Director of
Indian Express Group while hailing the withdrawal by PM said that, “It is a big relief that the Prime Minister has withdrawn the MIB’s error. Historically any attempt by the government to interfere with free press in India, be it under Rajiv Gandhi, Indira Gandhi or even Vasundhara Raje’s defamation ordinance has always been thrown out. I am happy that the industry was quick to mobilize against the odd press released by the MIB. Having said all that, this small victory shouldn’t distract our industry working together to improve the standards of transparency in our journalism.” Malini Parthsarthy who is co-chair and Director-Editorial strategy of ‘The Hindu’ Group tweeted that, “Victory for democracy and a free press! Hope the journalistic fraternity acknowledges the power of standing up together and resisting assaults on the freedom of the press!” Rajat Sharma who is President of News Broadcasters Association (NBA) and runs India TV news channel in a statement also welcomed the decision to let industry bodies decide all issues relating to “fake news”. A statement issued by Press Club of India, Indian Women’s Press Corps, Press Association and the Federation of Press Clubs of India, welcomed the retraction of the order. It said that, “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.”
Finding no place to hide, the Information & Broadcasting Minister Smriti Irani retorted that there was no any order ever has been issued by the NDA government to curb the voice of journalist or the media. No circular on the fake news matter was issued by the Information & Broadcasting Ministry as claimed by Ms. Irani!
All said and done, it is good to see that fake news order was withdrawn after PM Narendra Modi’s timely intervention. The PM also made it known that the fake news matter should only be addressed by the Press Council of India.
Journalists in the field of work.
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