Fake News: Bounding The Free Press

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After being widely attacked by the journalists and opposition, prime minister Narendra Modi rightly directed the Information and Broadcasting Ministry to withdraw its statement which announced new guidelines to govern the accreditation of journalists if they were found indulging in fake news.

As per the amended guidelines (now withdrawn), if the publication or telecast of fake news is confirmed the accreditation of the journalist would be suspended for six months in the first violation and for one year in case of a second violation. It also said that once a complaint against a journalist was registered, his or her accreditation would be suspended until a determination had been made. But the big question is who would determine whether a news was fake and if the rules were being misused to harass reporters or not.

Following the release of the statement on Monday, Press Council of India said that there was nothing “wrong or obnoxious” about a government’s intention to check the spread of ‘fake news’ if the veracity of such allegations is being decided by an “independent statutory body”. Though statement by Editors’ guild state otherwise. In their recent statement, they said, “the recent reconstitution of 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.”

“Fake news” the term popularized by president Trump to disparage what he considered as unfair coverage of his 2016 Presidential campaign and first year in office is now widely used around the world to describe reporting they find objectionable. Members of freewheeling press expressed shock and outrage at the announcement which allowed ruling government to rein in a free speech ahead of general elections due by next year.

The 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 in the states – are charged with propagating fake news themselves. “It would have opened the door for frivolous complaints to harass journalists and organizations to fall in line,” Editor’s guild said.

Opposition attacked the central government over non-withdrawn guidelines on fake news, with the Congress saying fascism has touched its peak and the AAP and the CPI(M) likening the prevailing situation to the emergency. Sitaram Yechury accused the government of attacking media in the grab of fake news over the news it finds “uncomfortable”. It is like an undeclared emergency. The government wants to gag the Press. They want the press to write what the government wants.

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