Fake news: A journalist will lose PIB accreditation if the person violates rules for the third time
New Delhi: Journalists' accreditation can be suspended just on the accusation of fake news and they can lose their credentials permanently for a repeat offence, say new, unprecedented government rules announced by the government in an election year. The controversial guidelines, seen to leave journalists open to harassment, have sparked massive outrage and raised questions about who defines fake news. Responding to tweets last night, Information and Broadcasting Minister Smriti Irani said fake news complaints would be examined by the Press Council of India (PCI) and the News Broadcasters Association (NBA). A top journalists' body has called an emergency meeting at the Press Club of India.
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The government said in a statement that it had amended accreditation guidelines for journalists after noting "increasing instances of fake news in various mediums including print and electronic media".
A journalist's accreditation will be suspended the moment there is a complaint of fake news, says the most controversial part of the government's guidelines.
The Press Council and NBA are to decide within 15 days whether the complaint is legit. "The accreditation will be suspended till such time the determination regarding the fake news is made by the regulating agencies," the government says.
If the journalist is found guilty of publishing or propagating fake news, accreditation will be suspended for six months for the first violation and for a year in the case of a second violation. For a third offence, the journalist's accreditation will be cancelled permanently.
Senior journalist Shekhar Gupta described it as a "breathtaking assault on mainstream media," and referred to a law proposed by the Rajiv Gandhi government, which had sought to make "criminal imputation" and "scurrilous writings" a crime. Mr 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."
NDTV's Akhilesh Sharma questioned whether the Information and Broadcasting Ministry was assuming that only accredited journalists spread fake news. "What about non-accredited journalists, editors, news portals," he asked.
The government was also asked in various tweets, who decides what is fake and what is not.
Smriti Irani tweeted in reply: "Those will be considered as well @akhileshsharma1 ji through other departments of @MIB_India. Will put information in public domain soon."
Congress leader Ahmed Patel also questioned whether the guidelines were aimed at preventing journalists from reporting news uncomfortable to the establishment. "What is guarantee that these rules will not be misused to harass honest reporters? Is it not possible that motivated complaints will be filed to suspend accreditation until enquiry is on?" he tweeted.
In response, Smriti Irani tweeted: "Glad to see you awake Ahmed Patel ji. Whether a News article / broadcast is fake or not will be determined by PCI & NBA; both of whom I'm sure you know are not controlled/ operated by GOI."