India Reverses Short-Lived Policy on “Fake News”
On April 2nd, India’s Press Information Bureau released a statement regarding the amendment of accreditation regulations for journalists, emphasizing a stricter policy on fake news. Barely a day later, the Indian government withdrew the order, reportedly at the request of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, following widespread public backlash.
The press release specifically stated that media organizations accused of publishing fake news would be referred to either the Press Council of India or the News Broadcasters Association for evaluation. Under the policy laid out in the statement, if an agency was determined to be purposefully spreading “fake news,” they could potentially face an accreditation suspension period of six months after the first violation, one year after the second violation, and a permanent revocation of accreditation after three. The release did not provide an explicit definition of what constitutes “fake news.”
The announcement was met with harsh criticism from many who viewed it as an infringement on freedom of speech. Shekhar Gupta, editor in chief of The Print, tweeted “make no mistake: this is a breathtaking assault on mainstream media.” Other critics included M. V. Shreyams Kumar, vice president of the News Broadcasters Association, who branded the statement as “ridiculous,” adding that “this whole exercise is to curb the freedom of the press.” The News Broadcasters Association was cited as one of the regulatory organizations in the original press release, though president Rajat Sharma stated that the association had no prior knowledge of the announcement or their role in it.
The Ministry of Information & Broadcasting defended the announcement, citing it as an important step in the crusade against fake news and a method of countering “increasing instances of fake news in various mediums.” Smriti Irani, head of India’s Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, tweeted an appeal for collaboration, stating that the Ministry was “more than happy to engage with journalist body or organisation/s wanting to give suggestions so that together we can fight the menace of ‘fake news’ & uphold ethical journalism.”
The rapid withdrawal of the press release has been met with mixed reactions; some are optimistic that the government is rethinking their decision to censure media organizations, while others remain skeptical. India’s Press Information Bureau and Ministry of Information and Broadcasting have not released any further information regarding future government policy on so-called ‘fake news’.