Journalist bodies flay Centre over fake news order

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New Delhi, April 3: Several journalist associations on Tuesday attacked a central government order that threatened to take away the accreditation of journalists who were found propagating fake news.

But following widespread criticism, Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered to withdraw the order earlier in the day.

The order issued on Monday night said that a journalist’s accreditation would be suspended once a complaint of fake news was registered against him, which would be later determined by Press Council of India (PCI) and News Broadcasters Association (NBA).

If found that the news was indeed fake, he or she could also lose their accreditation for a limited period or permanently and thus be denied access to government institutions.

Journalists and opposition parties took a serious note of the order issued by the Information and Broadcasting Ministry and described the guideline as an attack on the freedom of press.

On Tuesday afternoon, the I&B Ministry said in a press release that the “Guidelines for Accreditation of Journalists amended to regulate Fake News issued on April 2 stand withdrawn”.

Strongly condemning the government, the Editors Guild of India said, “By notifying that the I & B Ministry will initiate such proceedings, the Government was arrogating for itself the role of policing the media. It would have opened the door for frivolous complaints to harass journalists and organisations to fall in line.”

It also said the recent reconstitution of the Press Council of India has been done in a manner that gives rise to doubts over the independence of the institution and its ability to play neutral umpire.

A joint statement issued by the Press Club of India, Indian Women’s Press Corps, Press Association and Federation of Press Clubs of Indi expressed their “deep concern” over the Monday order.

They said: “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.

“The Press Council of India was primarily set up to protect the freedom of the press, not to clamp down on it.”

The associations also welcomed the move to retract the Monday’s order.

Speaking at an event in which the statement was released at the Press Club of India here, senior journalist Rajdeep Sardesai said though the Monday’s order had been withdrawn, there was very little to celebrate.

“What was the need of the circular in the first place? The government would consider such a circular is worrisome,” Sardesai said.

He said that the government was into the “business of propaganda”, which was also “fake news” and added that the government should be kept away to discuss the subject of fake news, a point which was raised by other speakers also.

He also said that the government had to step in as the media had failed to rein in fake news. “We should name and shame serial offenders of fake news.”

TV journalist Ravish Kumar said the opinion of journalists was not taken before Monday’s circular was issued and added that such attacks would not stop.

Press Club of India President Gautam Lahiri told IANS that they would explore legal options on the arbitrary way in which the government was constituting the Central Press Accreditation Committee.

He also said that they would form a group of senior journalists to act as media watchdogs.