"Don't Fall For It": Arun Shourie On "Fake News" Order

Arun Shourie told NDTV that he did not believe that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was unaware of the controversial press accreditation guidelines issued by Information and Broadcasting Minister Smriti Irani.

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It is another instrument the government is acquiring to suppress the press, Arun Shourie told NDTV


NEW DELHI: 

Highlights

  1. Arun Shourie said he didn't believe PM was unaware of controversial order
  2. Guidelines were cancelled by PMO after massive outrage
  3. Mr Shourie has written against attack on civil liberties during Emergency
Arun Shourie, former union minister, tore into the NDA government on Tuesday for the now-cancelled rule to punish journalists for "fake news", insisting that this was a clear attempt to "suppress" the media and there would be more attempts.

Mr Shourie also told NDTV that he did not believe that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was unaware of the controversial press accreditation guidelines issued by Information and Broadcasting Minister Smriti Irani. It was widely seen as brazen attempt to curb the freedom of the Press.

"How can it be? When not a leaf moves but by his will. ... You think that such a far reaching order could have been drafted without the PMO," the one-time admirer of PM Narendra Modi said.

But the lesson from this episode, he said, was that every time the government tries to do something similar, "each time there should be a tsunami of backlash that they withdraw".

The PMO had cancelled the order on Tuesday after massive outrage at the guidelines that provided for automatic suspension of a journalist's accreditation every time someone complained that a news report was a "fake". 

The accreditation card issued by the Press Information Bureau gives journalists access to government buildings and official events.

According to the government, the guidelines for accreditation had been formulated to check what it had called the "increasing instances of fake news in various mediums including print and electronic media".

Mr Shourie, an economist who wrote for the Indian Express against attack on civil liberties during Emergency before becoming its editor, disputed the government's intentions.

"The first thing to realise is that such measures of the government have absolutely nothing to do with the stated objective because they are the biggest perpetrators of the fake news," Mr Shourie said.

Mr Shourie suggested that if the government was as committed to stopping fake news as it had proclaimed, it would have taken action against authors of fake news that had been called out by fact-checking websites such as Alt News. "And nothing has happened ever to any one of them," he said.

"Therefore, please be sure this has nothing to do with fake news. It is another instrument the government is acquiring to suppress the press," the former BJP leader told NDTV.

Mr Shourie said the answer to fake news is truth. "Always stick to the truth... Give out the truth," he said.

The former editor, who had a reputation for his fearless writing and dogged perseverance, also cautioned the media against suggestions that the press council or other committees should have the power to act against media.

"Never fall for this idea of autonomous organisation... Just look at the condition of so-called autonomous organisations in the country. What have they done to RBI (Reserve Bank of India) ... Even EC (Election Commission) is under a cloud," he said, describing the effort to suppress the media a reflection of admission that the government's "great skill" at managing headlines had run its course.

Mr Shourie referred to reports of Justice J Chelameswar writing to the Chief Justice to discuss government interference in judiciary. "So the Supreme Court is worried and we should repose our faith in the reconstituted Press Council," he asked.

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