Journalists could lose accreditation for fake news,call it 'Undemocratic Move'

The Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting on Monday night launched an attack on the spread of fake news, a global phenomenon that has leveraged the proliferation of digital technologies and has been accused of having led to a number of unforeseen outcomes.

Voices of dissent have risen against the new guidelines issued by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, which has amended the guidelines for accreditation of journalists after noticing a significant increase in the publication of fake news on various media platforms.

Calling it "an undemocratic move by the government that may throttle the media", some journalists are planning to hold a meeting to discuss and oppose the new guidelines.

The I&B ministry in its statement said, "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 and to News Broadcasters Association (NBA) if it relates to electronic media, for determination of the news item being fake or not,"

To ensure that the proceedings don't hurt the interest of the journalist facing the complaint, the agencies will complete the determination process within 15 days.

After the fake news has been reported and agencies PCI or NBA confirm the publication or telecast of the news as 'fake news', the accreditation of the journalist involved with creating and/or propagating fake news will be suspended for six months for the first violation.

The accreditation will be suspended for one year in the case of a second violation and it will be cancelled permanently in the event of the third violation.

Responding to comments on Twitter, Information and Broadcasting Minister Smriti Irani posted, "Would like to highlight that 'fake news' cases will be determined by PCI and NBA both not regulated/operated by GOI. Conduct rules and ethical work practices have been determined by NBA and PCI already."

Irani further clarified saying that the government will neither regulate nor operate the test for fake news complaint, whereas, bodies like NBA and PCI that have set benchmark ethical conduct rules will keep a check on the news.

Senior journalist and commentator Shekhar Gupta tweeted, "Make no mistake: this is a breathtaking assault on mainstream media. It's a moment like Rajiv Gandhi's anti-defamation bill. All media should bury their differences and resist this."

Senior journalist Suhasini Haider said, "But those who are penalised by today's order, by definition, can only be those who are accredited and they can be penalised on the basis of a "complaint", not a final decision. I can't imagine that's fair, Ma'am."

Responding to the tweet, Irani said, "Committee comprising of senior officers, representatives of PCI, NBA, IBF set up for regulations/policy for digital broadcasting & news portals. Till such time the regulation is not implemented rules cannot be enforced for news portals by industry."

The new move by the government on fake news is likely to generate friction between the government and the media. Some senior journalists preferring to speak off the record said that the guidelines have an inherent problem.

The issue is all set to take political overtones as parties have already started attacking the government.

The political adviser to UPA chairperson while welcoming the "attempt to control fake news" on Twitter posed 4 questions on the issue

"I appreciate the attempt to control fake news but few questions for my understanding":

1. What is guarantee that these rules will not be misused to harass honest reporters?
2. Who is going to decide what constitutes fake news?
3.  Is it not possible that motivated complaints will be filed to suspend accreditation until enquiry is on?
4. What is guarantee that these guidelines will check fake news or is it an attempt to prevent genuine reporters from reporting news uncomfortable to establishment?"

Senior journalists said a lot of fake news is created and circulated by those outside mainstream media. The new rules cover journalists and lay down action against those who are part of the mainstream and are accredited to government entities like PIB.

However, some senior journalists backed the move by the government.

A senior editor of a newspaper said, "The government is not monitoring or interfering with what a journalist writes or reports. Those who don't practice the art [of fake news] have nothing to worry. But shouldn't there be some deterrent against those who circulate and abet fake news?"

Journalists supporting the government move say that the stipulation by the ministry "while examining the requests seeking accreditation, the regulatory agencies will examine whether the `Norms of Journalistic Conduct' and `Code of Ethics and Broadcasting Standards' prescribed by the PCI and NBA respectively are adhered to by the journalists" the government is merely setting up a mechanism to address fake news in mainstream media