In an extraordinary development, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has withdrawn the controversial order by Smriti Irani’s Information and Broadcasting Ministry on journalists. The order by the prime minister said that the responsibility to deal with the complaints of fake news should be rested with the Press Council of India.
The I&B ministry had issued guidelines intended to cancel the journalists’ accreditation if they were accused of spreading fake news. The order had caused huge outcry among journalists.
The Congress had likened Irani’s diktat to ‘fascism’ in the crucial elections year. The party’s chief spokesperson, Randeep Surjewala, had tweeted, “Fascism reaches its ‘nadir’ as a shaky Modi Govt, caught in its web of lies, seeks to muzzle all independent voices in media through fallacious rules! Will the 13 Union Ministers answer for the lame duck portal tarnishing mainstream media? #FakeNews.”
The PM’s intervention came minutes after Irani tweeted saying her ministry was open to a debate on the matter. She tweeted, “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.
“@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.”
The central government’s plans to check fake news had triggered a huge controversy with journalists across India expressing their outrage. This was after a report said that the Centre’s Narendra Modi government was planning to punish journalists by taking away their government accreditation if they were guilty of spreading fake news.
According to the controversial guidelines, formulated by the I&B ministry, the government will refer to any complaints of fake news to the Press Council of India and News Broadcasters’ Association. These two bodies, the guidelines said, will be expected to submit their report within 15 days.
The journalist in question will have his or her government accreditation suspended for six months in first violation, 1 year for second violation. Their accreditation will be permanently canceled after the third violation.