Press Council of India Chairman Chandramauli Kumar Prasad on Tuesday said there was nothing obnoxious if any government plans to take remedial steps to check the “global menace” of fake news as long as an independent statutory body investigates the claims.
However, a journalist must be punished only “in gross cases of fake news or repeated involvement in fake news dissemination”, Prasad said. “The allegation needs to be determined by the council before any action is called for.”
Prasad was responding to a press release issued by the government on Monday to regulate fake news. The Centre had said journalists accused of reporting or propagating fake news will lose their press accreditation till regulating agencies confirm the validity of the complaint. Faced with mounting criticism from political leaders as well as citizens overnight, the Centre withdrew the order on Tuesday.
“Fake news means news, story, information, data and reports which is or are wholly or partly false,” Prasad’s statement read. “No prudent person should or can justify the dissemination of fake news.”
The Editors Guild of India criticised the Union Information and Broadcasting Ministry’s arbitrary plan 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,” the Editors Guild said in a press release. “It would have opened the door for frivolous complaints to harass journalists and organisations to fall in line.”
Acknowledging the intervention of the Prime Minister’s Office to withdraw the order, the Guild said it was “deeply disturbed that faith continues to be reposed on the Press Council of India” to deliver justice on such matters. “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,” it said.
“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,” the statement added. “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 Centre’s press release on Monday had stated that if the agencies – Press Council of India for print media and News Broadcasters Association for electronic media – find the complaint to be true, the journalist will lose accreditation for six months for the first violation. A second violation would get the journalist’s accreditation suspended for a year, and a third violation would take it away permanently.
The press release had said the government had amended the Guidelines for Accreditation of Journalists, “noticing the increasing instances of fake news in various mediums including print and electronic media”.