The Editors Guild of India condemned the “arbitrary” move by the Union Information and Broadcasting (I&B) Ministry which aimed at curbing fake news by cancelling the accreditation of journalists at the instance a complaint is filed against anyone.
In a statement issued on Tuesday, the Guild said that the order, which has now been revoked, was an attempt by the government to police the media.
“It would have opened the door for frivolous complaints to harass journalists and organisations to fall in line,” read the statement.
The Guild thanked Prime Minister Narendra Modi for intervening in the matter and withdraw the I&B Ministry’s notification.
Yet the statement said that the manner in which the order reposed faith in the Press Council of India “deeply disturbed” the Guild.
“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. The Guild’s nominees to the Council were disallowed on technical grounds,” the Guild pointed out.
The I&B order issued on Monday night warned that journalists would be denied access to the government even on mere accusations of spreading fake news and could lose their accreditation for a limited period or permanently.
The Ministry led by Smriti Irani had said that the government has amended the Guidelines for Accreditation of Journalists in view of “increasing instances of fake news in various mediums including print and electronic media”.
It had said that complaints of fake news would be referred to the Press Council of India (PCI) if it pertains to print media and to the News Broadcasters Association (NBA) if it relates to electronic media for determination of the news item being fake or not.
Journalists and opposition parties took a serious note of the order and described the guidelines as an attack on press freedom. Following the outrage, the PM’s Office ordered the Ministry to rescind the ‘fake news’ notification.
The order from the PMO came 20 minutes after IB Minister Smriti Irani posted on Twitter, saying that she was more than happy to engage with journalists to tackle the menace of fake news.
In its statement, the Guild pointed out that ‘fake news’ is a process that “cannot be left to governments to initiate action” when the governments and the parties in power have themselves been charged with propagating fake news.