Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi on Tuesday ordered the information & broadcasting (I&B) ministry to cancel its contentious guidelines on fake news after widespread criticism and outcry by journalists and Opposition, who dubbed these norms an attempt to “muzzle” free press.
Soon after, the I&B ministry issued a statement saying the press release regarding fake news put out by it on Wednesday night “stands withdrawn.” In the press release, the ministry had announced punitive measures like cancellation of accreditation to contain fake news, a decision which was dubbed by journalists and Opposition parties as an attempt to curb press freedom ahead of general elections due by 2019.
“The PM has directed that the press release regarding fake news be withdrawn and the matter be addressed by the Press Council of India,” said a senior Prime Minister’s Office official. The PM was also of the view that the government should not interfere in the matter, the official added.
Amending the guidelines for accreditation of journalists, the ministry announced norms to contain fake news which said 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, it had said. The I&B ministry’s decision drew sharp criticism from Opposition parties as well as from press bodies. The Congress said fascism had touched its peak as it sought to “muzzle” independent voices through “fallacious” rules. The Aam Aadmi Party and Communist Party of India (Marxist) likened the situation to the ‘Emergency’.
This determination is expected to be completed within 15 days by these agencies, the ministry said. Once the complaint is registered for determination of fake news, the accreditation of the journalist, whoever “created and/or propagated” the fake news, will be suspended till the determination regarding the fake news is made, the ministry had said.