Tuesday, 3 April 2018

India withdraws move to crackdown on journalists publishing ‘fake news’

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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has ordered the withdrawal of a move to crackdown on journalists responsible for distributing fake news, a senior government official said on Tuesday.

“The prime minister has directed that the press statement regarding fake news be withdrawn and the matter be
addressed in the Press Council of India,” a senior official in Modi’s told Reuters.


No reason was given.

The Information and Broadcasting Ministry had said the government would withdraw accreditation of journalists who peddle fake news.

Journalists and opposition parties had described the rules as an effort by Mr Modi’s government to control the press
ahead of a general election due by 2019.

NAN reports that on Monday, India said it will deny government access to journalists who publish fake news,
a decision that critics promptly labelled an attack on freedom of the press in the world’s largest democracy.

Journalists and opposition parties described the new rules as an effort by Mr Modi’s government
to control the press ahead of a general election due by 2019.

It was the latest move by a government in Asia to tackle fake news and comes after Malaysia approved a law
prescribing up to six years’ imprisonment for such offences.

Journalists found guilty of writing or broadcasting fake news will have their government accreditation withdrawn for a limited period or permanently, depending on the frequency of violations, citing increasing complaints about fake news.

Such accreditation is required by journalists to visit ministries and attend news conferences and seminars organized by government departments. Journalists use their accreditation cards to prove their identity at other news events.

The ministry did not define “fake news”, but said complaints about it in print would be referred for determination to the Press Council of India, with suspected cases on television going to the National Broadcasters Association.

The term “fake news” has in the past few months become part of the standard repertoire of leaders in several
countries to describe media reports and organisations critical of them.

Mahesh Vikram Hegde was arrested in southern Karnataka state on charges of spreading fake and communally sensitive news on his right wing website, a senior police officer said.

The Indian ministry did not mention digital media, although Smriti Irani, the Information and Broadcasting Minister, had earlier said the government would try to frame rules for digital media too.

“What is (the) guarantee that these guidelines will check fake news?” opposition Congress party leader Ahmed Patel
asked in a tweet.

“Or is it an attempt to prevent genuine reporters from reporting news uncomfortable to the
establishment?”

The government’s decision also set off alarm bells in Indian media organisations.

Shekhar Gupta, a former editor of the Indian Express newspaper, said it was “a breathtaking assault on mainstream media”, and urged journalists to resist it.

“This is an attack on the freedom of the press. The draconian order could be misused against genuine journalists,” said Mr Gautam Lahiri, president of the Press Club of India.

“The government should immediately withdraw this order,” he said, adding that journalists would hold a protest later on Tuesday.

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