Media industry hail PMO’s whip on fake news norms
The media industry on Tuesday welcomed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s intervention directing the withdrawal of guidelines issued by the ministry of information and broadcasting (MIB) on Monday to regulate the publication or broadcast of fake news.
The guidelines were revoked after the industry and opposition parties said the ministry’s decision to revoke the accreditation of journalists found guilty by PCI and the National Broadcaster’s Association (NBA) of printing or airing fake news could endanger freedom of the press.
While revoking the MIB’s order, PMO instructed the issue of fake news to be left in the domain of the PCI, a statutory, quasi-judicial body.
The decision was however criticised by the Editor’s Guild.
“The Guild acknowledges the intervention of the Prime Minister’s Office to withdraw the I & B Ministry’s notification but remains deeply disturbed that faith continues to be reposed on the Press Council of India to deliver justice on such issues. 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,” it said in a statement.
The ministry had earlier turned down the Guild’s nominees to the PCI “on technical grounds” and did not process its application for membership to the Central Press Accreditation Committee.
The Guild also said that ‘fake news’ is a process that cannot be left to governments to initiate action when, on many occasions, the governments and the parties in power -- both at the Centre and states – are charged with propagating fake news themselves.
For its part the PCI said the issue of tackling fake news was discussed several times, but it also advocated its determination to be done by an independent body.
PCI chairperson Justice CK Prasad said: “We have been having consultations on the menace of paid new and fake news for some time now. My personal view is that determination of paid and fake news and of the penal action depending on the severity and frequency of the occurrence should be done by an independent body such as the PCI and not by any government regulated body.”
When asked if the PCI had recommended suspension of accreditation, he said: “Accreditation is not in the domain of the PCI. But every case cannot be fake news; if it is news that leads to communal flare up for instance, it should invoke action. There should be deterrent,” he said.
Even as union MIB minister Smriti Irani tweeted that the regulations had “generated debate” and several journalists and organisations had reached out giving positive suggestions regarding the same, the Opposition dubbed them draconian.
Then came the reversal.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi tweeted: “Sensing mounting anger on the “fake news” notification, the PM orders a U-Turn on his own order. One can clearly see a loss of control and panic setting in now.”
His party colleague Anand Sharma questioned how the PMO was not aware of the regulations.
“The Prime Minister is the principal beneficiary of fake news. How is this government working? Everybody knows that no minister can move a file or take a decision without the PMO. There is complete centralisation of decision-making and policy-making. We have an authoritarian Prime Minister. Surely, he was in the know of the decision. If the Prime Minister says he and the PMO were not aware what the Information and Broadcasting minister was doing, we will be surprised.” The PM’s intervention was however, welcomed by media houses and the NBA.
“It is a big relief that the Prime Minister has withdrawn the MIB’s error. Historically any attempt by the government to interfere with free press in India, be it under Rajiv Gandhi, Indira Gandhi or even Vasundhara Raje’s defamation ordinance has always been thrown out. I am happy that the industry was quick to mobilise against the odd press released by the MIB. Having said all that, this small victory shouldn’t distract our industry working together to improve the standards of transparency in our journalism,” said Anant Goenka, executive director, Indian Express Group.
Malini Parthsarthy, co-chair and director-editorial strategy, The Hindu Group, tweeted: “Victory for democracy and a free press! Hope the journalistic fraternity acknowledges the power of standing up together and resisting assaults on the freedom of the press!”
Rajat Sharma, president NBA in a statement also welcomed the decision to let industry bodies decide all issues relating to “fake news”.