NEW DELHI: The Information & Broadcasting ministry on Tuesday withdrew an order issued on Monday night, which said journalists pushing fake news would lose their accreditation. The decision to revoke the order follows widespread criticism that it is an attempt by the government to muzzle press freedom in the name of fake news. Sources said Prime Minister Narendra Modi was unhappy with the controversial decision and asked the Smriti Irani-led ministry to withdraw the order.
According to sources, Irani was concerned about the increasing instances of fake news and her ministry was working on ways to control the scourge. The ministry’s Monday order had justified the proposed action as a means to curb unfounded reports but it did not explain what constitutes fake news, causing concern that those criticising the government may be targeted.
Notably, the order took many officials also by surprise as they were not aware of the changes in the accreditation guidelines. Some officials of the Press Information Bureau said that fake news spreads through social media and that it is pointless to target accredited journalists who work for mainstream media. Sources said Irani received a call from the PMO early in the morning and the guidelines were withdrawn by noon.
The Editors Guild of India raised questions over the reconstitution of the Press Council of India, even as it acknowledged the PMO’s intervention to withdraw the Information and Broadcasting Ministry’s guidelines on fake news, “The recent reconstitution of the Press Council has been done in a manner that gives rise to doubts over the independence of the institution and its ability to play neutral umpire. The Guild’s nominees to the Council were disallowed on technical grounds,” the Guild said.
The Press Council was reconstituted by the government recently during mid-March. Among the members nominated is Pratap Simha, a BJP lawmaker who defended Postcard News founder Mahesh Hegde, who was arrested on the allegation of spreading fake news last week. Simha was among the BJP parliamentarians who tweeted in Hegde’s support.
The Editors’ Guild also referred to the reconstitution of the Central Press Accreditation Committee, saying it raised questions over the “non-transparent processes being followed by the I&B Ministry”.
Meanwhile, the Press Council said there was nothing obnoxious, if any government plans to take remedial steps to check fake news as long as an independent statutory body investigates the claims.