Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday ordered the I&B Ministry to cancel its contentious guidelines on fake news after widespread criticism and outcry by journalists and the opposition who dubbed these norms an attempt to "muzzle" the free press.
"(The) Prime Minister has directed that the press release regarding fake news be withdrawn and the matter should only be addressed in the Press Council of India," an official source said.
Soon after, the Information and Broadcasting ministry issued a statement, saying the press release regarding fake news put out by it last night "stands withdrawn."
The News Broadcasters Association (NBA) welcomed the decision of the Prime Minister’s Office to withdraw the press release on orders relating to 'fake news'.
NBA President and India TV Editor-in-Chief Rajat Sharma thanked the government for not interfering with press accreditation guidelines.
"I welcome PMO's decision on not interfering with press accreditation guidelines. I urge upon industry colleagues to join hands to combat the proliferation of 'fake news'," he said in a statement released by the NBA.
The private news broadcaster's body, NBA also welcomed the decision to let industry bodies i.e., NBA and the Press Council of India (PCI) decide all issues relating to 'fake news'.
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The order issued on Monday night warned that journalists would be denied access to the government even on mere accusations of spreading fake news and could lose their accreditation for a limited period or permanently.
The I&B ministry decision drew sharp criticism from opposition parties as well as from various press bodies, while some journalists cautioned it remains to be seen what could be the next move of the government after this failed attempt.
In a strongly-worded statement, the Editors Guild said, "By notifying that the I&B Ministry will initiate such proceedings, the government was arrogating for itself the role of policing the media. It would have opened the door for frivolous complaints to harass journalists and organisations to fall in line."
It also said that the Guild acknowledges the intervention of the Prime Minister but remains "deeply disturbed" that faith continues to be reposed on the Press Council of India (PCI) to deliver justice on such issues.
"The recent reconstitution of the PCI has been done in a manner that gives rise to doubts over the independence of the institution and its ability to play neutral umpire. The Guild's nominees to the Council were disallowed on technical grounds. Also, the recent reconstitution of the Central Press Accreditation Committee has raised questions over the non-transparent processes being followed by the I & B Ministry as the Guild's application was ignored," the statement said.
Congress President Rahul Gandhi also took potshots at Modi, saying there was a loss of control and panic was setting in.
"Sensing mounting anger on the 'fake news' notification, the PM orders a U-Turn on his own order. One can clearly see a loss of control and panic setting in now," Gandhi tweeted.
Congress leader Anand Sharma told reporters that it was difficult to believe that Modi was not in the know of the order when it was issued as there was complete centralization of authority and decision-making in the government.
"The BJP, the RSS and the Prime Minister are beneficiary of fake news," he said.