The fake news regulation that came up on Monday at the behest of I&B Ministry has been revoked on Tuesday at the intervention of Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). Although it seems like PM Modi himself intervened to protect the freedom of the press, it is understood that the decision to try and curb the freedom of the press could not have come up without the clearance from PMO. I&B Minister, Smriti Irani is only a scapegoat for what transpired leading up to the Monday’s decision.
The order of revoking the accreditation of journalists who write and publish the so-called fake news was laden with ambiguity. It was not defined as to what is exactly meant by “fake news”. Ms. Irani herself admitted the ambiguity surrounding this order, or what can be her face saving alibi regarding the regulation. She was quick to point out that neither of these agencies is government bodies, but the fact that it’s the ministry that has set the punishment and left the definition of ‘fake news’ ambiguous has raised concerns that the provision may be used to silence journalists. Congress leader Ahmed Patel said so much when he tweeted, “What is the 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 the inquiry is on?”
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Ms. Irani retaliated to Ahmed Patel with a counter tweet by highlighting that the two agencies are not government bodies. “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 is not controlled/ operated by GOI.”
The war of words apart, the BJP’s move to silence any criticism that may come through media turned out to be something that is more what they could chew. A nationwide furor that followed the decision compelled the government to coil back. Modi realized that this can turn into nationwide protest spearheaded by all media fraternity, a risk that he could not take. Antagonizing the media can result in death spell for BJP, especially when there are a number of state elections this year and the general assembly election is due in the middle of next year.