Hours after Union Information and Broadcasting Ministry announced its new guidelines to check the phenomenon of fake news, the news was met with unprecedented outrage by senior journalists.
Veteran journalist Shekhar Gupta wrote, “Make no mistake: this is a breathtaking assault on mainstream media. It’s a moment like Rajiv Gandhi’s anti-defamation bill. All media shd bury their differences and resist this.”
Senior journalist and the founder of Janta Ka Reporter, Rifat Jawaid, wrote, “Good that Smriti Irani has decided to tackle fake news, but she herself retweeted a story written by dubious website propagating lies yesterday. Her party senior colleagues vehemently defended the acts of PostCard news founder. Hypocrisy anyone?”
Another senior journalist Suhasini Haidar too made a similar point, “With its order today, government makes it clear that it only wants to penalise those who are accredited, i.e “Mainstream media”. The I&B ministry’s “Fake News” threat doesn’t extend to those websites that openly flout journalistic ethics, some q often quoted by Ministers.”
However, concerned by its potential pitfalls in the election year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi quickly intervened and ordered the withdrawal of the controversial order.
Under the new plans to tackle what the I&B ministry said it wanted to tackle ‘fake news,’ 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 new guidelines, formulated by the I&B ministry, the government planned to refer to any complaints of fake news to the Press Council of India and News Broadcasters’ Association. These two bodies, the guidelines said, would have been expected to submit their report within 15 days.
The journalist in question will have had to his or her government accreditation suspended for six months in first violation, 1 year for second violation. Their accreditation will be permanently cancelled after the third violation.
Accredited journalists have access to government buildings and events organised by the government.
But, the central government’s U-Turn brought Irani under fire. Many questioned if her past claim to have acquired a degree from Yale University constituted fake news. While others demanded her removal from the ministry.
Irani’s so-called concern for the menace of fake news comes just days after her senior party colleagues were openly defending the PostCard news, which has become notorious for spreading fake news to create communal tension. Its founder was arrested by Karnataka Police last week.
Here are some of the reactions on social media;
What punishment did Smriti Irani get for spreading this fake news? https://t.co/lcX4KFQRLN
— Shivam Vij (@DilliDurAst) April 3, 2018
If a journalist reports that Smriti Irani has a degree from Yale, will he lose accreditation for spreading fake news?
— Sanjiv Bhatt (IPS) (@sanjivbhatt) April 3, 2018
— Swati Chaturvedi (@bainjal) April 3, 2018
Now waiting for Panna Pramukhs on social media to tell us about the greatness of Prime Minister Modi for asking for thie fake news notice to be withdrawn.
— Ankur Bhardwaj (@Bhayankur) April 3, 2018
PM Modi asks @smritiirani to withdraw fake news circular. What does that mean? Smriti did this without consulting PMO? Or PM wanted to make it a test case?
— nikhil wagle (@waglenikhil) April 3, 2018
Smriti Irani is a poor joke but the real jokers are elsewhere.
— SonaliRanade (@sonaliranade) April 3, 2018
If I report that Smriti Irani ji has a degree from Yale, will I be booked for spreading #FakeNews?
Asking for myself.
— ranjona banerji (@ranjona) April 3, 2018
So a journalist who says Smriti Irani has a degree from Yale or that Modi has a 56-inch chest should lose their accreditation on grounds of disseminating fake news, right? pic.twitter.com/Ds00ByfJHb
— IndiaExplained (@IndiaExplained) April 3, 2018