Was issuing and withdrawing I&B guideline a warning to press?

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unnamed (2)Even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi has ordered the Information and Broadcasting Ministry to cancel its contentious guidelines on fake news, the fourth estate does not seem to take the withdrawal at the face value.

“The government has just fired a warning shot across the bows knowing fully well that the guidelines were anchored in quicksand, Congress leader Manish Tewari wrote in a daily newspaper about the move, which was seen as “muzzling” of the free press.

In a press release on Tuesday night, the I&B ministry announced punitive measures like cancellation of accreditation to contain fake news, a decision which was dubbed by journalist and opposition parties as an attempt to curb press freedom ahead of the general elections due by 2019.

“PM has directed that the press release regarding the fake news be withdrawn and the matter should only be addressed by the Press Council of India,” a senior PMO official said. The Prime minister was also of the view that the government should not interfere in the matter, the official added.

Amending the guidelines for accreditation of journalists, the ministry reportedly announced norms to contain fake news which said if the publication or telecast of fake news was confirmed, accreditation of the journalist would be suspended for six months in case of first violation and for one year in case of a second violation.

In case of a third violation, his or her accreditation would be cancelled permanently, the ministry had said in a press release.

The I&B ministry decision drew sharp criticism from opposition parties as well as from press bodies.

The Congress reportedly said fascism has touched its peak as it sought to “muzzle” independent voices through “fallacious” rules. The AAP and CPI-M likened the situation to the ’emergency’.

“The government has no mandate to control the press. The media were also worried about growing incidents of fake news but the Press Council is the right platform to deal with complaints regarding any fake news,” PTI quoted the president of the Press Club of India Gautam Lahiri as saying.

The I&B ministry norms had also said any complaint of instances 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 the electronic media, for determination of the news item being fake or not.

This determination is expected to be completed within 15 days by these agencies, the ministry reportedly said.

Once the complaint is registered for determination of fake news, the accreditation of the journalist, whoever created and/or propagated the fake news, will be suspended till the determination regarding the fake news is made, the ministry had said.