PMO orders I&B (Information and Broadcasting) Ministry to Withdraw Statement on Fake News

Yesterday’s press statement about the new rules related to checking fake news issued by the information and broadcasting ministry through a press statement was ordered to be withdrawn by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) on Tuesday following widespread criticism about the proposed regulations. The ministry has withdrawn the press statement since.

The Press Council of India should be the agency that should be the only agency that should handle issues of fake new, the PMO order further said.

The directive from the PMO essentially rebuked an offer from the I&B Minister Smriti Irani who tweeted saying that her ministry is “is more than happy to engage with” journalists who are interested in checking fake news, just minutes after the tweet was made.

On Monday, the PTI had reported that the government would permanently cancel the accreditation of a journalist if the scribe was found to be creating fake news, the government directive had said. Under the amended guidelines for journalists’ accreditation, if a journalist was proved to be responsible for creating fake news, the accreditation of the journalist would first be suspended for six months for the first offence and for a year in case of a second incident by the same journalist in cases where authorities can confirm the publication or telecast of fake news.

There are attempts by the Centre to muzzle the freedom of the press and to prevent uncomfortable news about the government being published, the opposition and many journalists had alleged following the issuing of the press statement by the I&B ministry.

Congress leader Ahmed Patel tweeted asking the authority of the person who would determine what news is fake.

“Is it not possible that motivated complaints will be filed to suspend accreditation until an inquiry is on? What is the guarantee that these guidelines will check fake news, or is it an attempt to prevent genuine reporters from reporting news uncomfortable to the establishment?” asked Patel in a tweet.

Describing it as “duplicitous”, the Centre’s move was criticised by senior CPM leader Sitaram Yechury.

“We fought for press freedom during the Emergency, then against the Defamation Bill. We condemn this duplicitous move of the Modi government wherein 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,” tweeted Yechury.

PM Narendra Modi and Information and Broadcasting Minister Smriti Irani

PM Narendra Modi and Information and Broadcasting Minister Smriti Irani

Smriti Irani reacted to Congress’s Patel’s tweet saying that the onus of deciding what news is fake and what is not would rest with the Press Council of India (PCI) and the News Broadcasters Association (NBA).

The same two bodies were mentioned yesterday by Ahmed Patel as the authorities who should be responsible for determination of fake news according to a news report from ANI.

The Monday press statement on the fake news as issued by the I&B ministry said: “Determination (of fake news) is expected to be completed within 15 days by these regulating agencies (PCI and NBA). Once the complaint is registered for determination of fake news, the correspondent or journalist whoever created or propagated the fake news will, if accredited, have the accreditation suspended till such time the determination regarding the fake news is made by the regulating agencies mentioned above,” the press statement read.