Indian government withdraws sweeping rule to control 'fake news'

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The Indian Newspaper Society on Wednesday welcomed prime minister Narendra Modi's decision to turn down the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting's stringent guidelines to check fake news and also expressed anguish over the Press Council of India's "biased" selection of new members.

Under intense attack, the government made a hasty retreat as Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday withdrew within hours his government's order that threatened to take away the accreditation of journalists involved in producing "fake news".

The I&B Ministry decision drew sharp criticism from Opposition parties as well as from Press bodies. Shortly after the I&B ministry withdrew its order after a nudge by the PMO, Congress president Rahul Gandhi tweeted, "Sensing mounting anger on the "fake news" notification, the PM orders a U-Turn on his own order".

The Information and Broadcasting ministry had on Monday announced measures to contain fake news, saying a journalist's accreditation could be permanently cancelled if he or she is found generating or propagating fake news. It added, "The accreditation shall be suspended for a period of six months in the first violation and for one year in the case of second violation, and in the event of third violation it would be canceled permanently".

Meanwhile, in a strongly worded statement, the Editors Guild said the PM's direction scrapping the order did not go far enough to allay all concerns. The PCI said the complaint of fake news filed by an individual, government or any other aggrieved person is dealt with by the Council following procedures laid down in the Press Council Act and Press Council (Procedure for Inquiry) Regulations. "Interested journalists and/or organisations may feel free to meet me at @MIB_India". We stand for, and are committed to a free and independent Press.

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It sought to suspend the accreditation of a journalist accused of publishing or transmitting fake news pending adjudication by the Press Council of India ~ a statutory, quasi-judicial body ~ in complaints relating to the print medium or the News Broadcasters' Association ~ a private body of television channel owners without any legal authority ~ in the case of the broadcast media.

The agencies would complete the determination process within 15 days, the statement said.

In her defence, Smriti Z Irani, the I and B minister, said the guidelines generated debate and that she "is more than happy to engage with journalist body or organisations wanting to give suggestions so that together we can fight the menace of "fake news" and uphold ethical journalism".

It covers digital publications and social media and will apply to offenders who maliciously spread fake news inside and outside Malaysia, including foreigners, if Malaysia or a Malaysian citizen were affected. Recalling the fight for press freedom during the 1975-77 Emergency, CPI (M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury said his party condemned the "duplicitous" move.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and leading broadcasters launched a drive against fake news Tuesday with a new set of trust and transparency standards for journalists.

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