What, in heaven’s name, is fake news? Is it the new bogey or a grave threat of our times; is it the new fear monger? Who will decide or identify fake news in India? For rulers of any description, except pretenders to benign and liberal views ~ any criticism could be fake news.
The liberals or so-called votaries of freedom of expression consider criticism not only fake news; but they voice their disdain and nurse utter contempt for the authors of “fake news” and seek to punish them. Several rulers believe in quick fixes; they issue warnings, threats and punishment for purported fake news and its creators.
For example, will it be fake news to report that 10 million new jobs were or were not created in the calendar year 2017 or from April 1, 2017 to March 31, 2018 in helping with claims and promises prior to and after the General Election in 2014 and now during the promised good governance. Is this regardless of the widespread belief that jobs were lost because of the November 8, 2016 demonetization?
A government circular had threatened to punish the peddlers of what is considered fake news in the mainstream or small media, print and electronic, as well as social media. The circular was promptly dropped within 24 hours following orders of the Prime Minister. It was considered a reprimand or even “embarrassment” for the Information and Broadcasting Minister, Mrs. Smriti Irani, who is still the most loyal of all the loyal Ministers to the leader of the nation? She may have been low key and fairly quiet for a long time after she was moved out of H.R.D. Ministry, but she might have been active behind the scenes about how she could discipline the media, but the circular could not have been solely drafted in her Ministry.
She must have been seeking advice from higher authorities and advisers to vet her moves, but she must have also been prepared for a possible “tick off” if the contents of the circular could not be sustained. But only small parts of the circular and warnings embedded in it have been modified, without any real change.
The only trivial change in the orders has been that complaints about fake news against journalists will be referred to the Press Council of India, which is being reconstituted.
Judges like Mr. Markandey, a former Press Council boss, were always committed to their own weird ways of thinking on all kinds of issues. When he retired from the Press Council, he started dispensing all kinds of wisdom, unsought. Even the Supreme Court had to discipline him for his comments. But nearly all previous and subsequent judges presiding over the Press Council have stayed within the bounds of their august office. Journalists would expect that it will be so from now on.>
Lalit Sethi is a Journalist of long standing and a commentator on Political and Social Issues.