Fake News Or­der With­drawn Af­ter PM’s In­ter­ven­tion

Alive - - Contents - by Sanjeev Sirohi

The Prime

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.”

Re­ca­pit­u­la­tion

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.

'Don't fall for it': Former Union Min­is­ter and him­self a jour­nal­ist Arun Shourie on 'fake news'.

Who will de­cide what is fake or not fake?

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