An elaborate reaction from the Editors Guild of India and several other media bodies which unequivocally and strongly condemned the information and broadcasting ministry’s unsuccessful move to impose restrictions on the media in the name of ‘fake news’.
To debate and put across their points of view, the top editors of the national media and scores of journalists expressed their anguish over the ministry’s “brazen attempt” to curb the freedom of press at a gathering in Press Club of India.
It need be mentioned that the Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Tuesday charged that Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a U-turn on his “own order” on fake news.
The decision had to be rolled back because the Prime Minister Narendra Modi so directed for it.
He stated that the matter should only be addressed in Press Council of India.
Earlier, the Information & Broadcasting Ministry under Smriti Irani laid down the amended guidelines in a press release stating that the accreditation of a journalist could be permanently cancelled if the scribe is found generating or propagating fake news.
Meanwhile, the Editors Guild issued a statement which read:
The Editors Guild of India strongly condemns the arbitrary manner contemplated by the Union Information and Broadcasting (I &B) Ministry ostensibly to penalise any journalist or media organisation publishing fake news. By notifying that the I & B Ministry will initiate such proceedings, the Government was arrogating for itself the role of policing the media. It would have opened the door for frivolous complaints to harass journalists and organisations to fall in line.
The Guild acknowledges the intervention of the Prime Minister’s Office to withdraw the I & B Ministry’s notification but remains deeply disturbed that faith continues to be reposed on the Press Council of India to deliver justice on such issues. 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. Also, the recent reconstitution of the Central Press Accreditation Committee has raised questions over the non-transparent processes being followed by the I & B Ministry as the Guild’s application was ignored.
The Guild also points out that ‘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 states – are charged with propagating fake news themselves. Moreover, news organisations are not the only source of generation of fake news with the country awash with digital platforms of all hues and opinions that operate without constraints and have the potential to cause far more damage.
The Guild has always stood for observing the highest journalistic standards and is willing to work with the Central Government, state governments and media bodies to define what can be constituted as ‘fake news’ and take action against those found guilty of propagating such news without compromising on the independence and freedom of the media.>