The “Guidelines for Accreditation of Journalists Amended to Regulate Fake News” was released by the Information and the Broadcasting Ministry late Monday. However, amid strong opposition by journalists and heated debate over the issue, Prime Minister Narendra Modi intervened and ordered withdrawal of the release and the move was rolled back. That was a fast move. The fact that it did not take too long for the prime minister to step in what appeared to be the right thing to do, one wonders what the whirlwind was all about when the nation was burning with Dalit protests over the recent Supreme Court order on SC/ST Act.
After ordering withdrawal of the release, the prime minister said that the subject should be left to the Press Council of India.
All is well that ends well. But the deed is done, and the government’s intent now is under the scanner. While some may see the move as a smart attempt to shift the nation’s focus from the burning SC/ST issue, and the release may have been withdrawn for now, it’s been made loud enough what the government had been busy with.
The ministry did mention in the release that the decision to amend the guidelines was taken after "increasing instances of fake news in various mediums including print and electronic media".
“Noticing the increasing instances of fake news in various mediums including print and electronic media, the Government has amended the Guidelines for Accreditation of Journalists. Now on receiving any complaints of such instances of fake news, the same would get referred to the Press Council of India (PCI) if it pertains to print media & to News Broadcasters Association (NBA) if it relates to electronic media, for determination of the news item being fake or not…,” the ministry stated in the release.
However, the guidelines by the I&B Ministry was seen by the media as an attempt to control freedom of press in an election year.
The Opposition too questioned the government’s intent behind the move and asked whether the move was “an attempt to prevent genuine reporters from reporting news uncomfortable to establishment.”
What was the move all about? As fake news pervades various media platforms, surely stringent rules are needed to save the world from wrong information. Surely, there is a need to check the dissemination of fake news and safeguard the public while ensuring the right to freedom of expression. The guilty should be punished.
There is an increasing concern over fake news in all corners of the society. There is a strong need to weaken the weapon of fake news for reason best known. But how the government does it would always put a question mark on it—How serious is the government’s intention to crack down on fake news.