Journalists found guilty of writing fake news will lose accreditation
Journalists found guilty of writing or broadcasting “fake news” will have their accreditation withdrawn for a limited period or permanently, depending on the frequency of violations, the Union ministry of information and broadcasting (MIB) announced on Monday, as India moved to crack down on the menace of fake news.
The ministry did not define “fake news” but said in a statement that all complaints of “fake news” would be referred for determination to the Press Council of India (PCI) for violations in print, and to the National Broadcasters Association (NBA) for violations on TV. The ministry’s statement didn’t mention digital media, although I&B minister Smriti Irani has previously said that the government would try and frame rules for that too. The minister said a line of ethics and a code of conduct had to be put in place to ensure that customers do not get affected by vested views in news, broadcasting and advertorial content.
The efforts come even as governments around the world are figuring out ways to tackle fake news, especially in digital media. It is now widely believed that the Russians used fake news on Facebook to try and influence the outcome of the 2016 US election.
There are fears that something similar could happen in India, which will see elections to several states this year. The parliamentary elections are scheduled for the middle of next year.
“We have the Press Council of India for newspapers which is different from government and still self-regulatory enough to awaken its own conscience and take a decision that will bar such processes. Similarly, for television news you have the News Broadcasters Association. I’m hopeful that such a similar body will also emerge for social media at least in the news, opinion and entertainment content,” Irani said at a recent conference in New Delhi.
Both NBA and the PCI will get 15 days to rule on the complaint and if the journalist against whom the complaint is lodged is accredited with the Press Information Bureau (PIB), his or her accreditation will be suspended till the time of the determination of the complaint, the statement said. “... the accreditation shall be suspended for a period of six months in the first violation and for one year in the case of second violation, and in the event of third violation it would be cancelled permanently,” it added.
The PCI is a statutory, quasi-judicial body set up for the preservation of press freedom; build up a code of conduct for newspapers, news agencies and journalists, and to review any development likely to restrict supply and dissemination of news of public interest and importance.
The NBA, according to information on its website, is a voluntary body of news broadcasters that “seeks to lay down and foster high standards, ethics and practices in news broadcasting, including entertaining and deciding complaints against or in respect of broadcasters in so far as these relate to the content of any broadcast”.
“Firstly, the majority of fake news stems from anonymous websites, many of which are alleged to have dubious relationships with various political parties across the spectrum both in India and over the world. Since this move by the government ignores the digital platform, it isn’t going to come near solving the problem. Secondly, a look towards America will show you just how difficult it can be to be the arbiter of what may be a journalist’s innocuous error and an intent to spread factually false information,” said Anant Goenka, executive director at the Indian Express Group.
Anurradha Prasad, chairperson and managing director at News24 Broadcast India Ltd said the govt’s fake news policy is a good move, since credibility of news gets lost due to fake news. “All stakeholders in news media will appreciate it,” she said.