Union ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) recently announced that journalists found guilty of broadcasting or writing fake news will have their accreditation withdrawn for a limited period or permanently, depending on the frequency of violations.
For the print media, the statement of complaints regarding fake news will be referred to Press Council of India (PCI) and for violations on TV, it will be to National Broadcasters Association (NBA). The digital media is out the focal point as of now although I&B minister Smriti Irani has indicated of bringing the digital media within the purview of regulations.
“We have the Press Council of India for newspapers which is different from government and still self-regulatory enough to awaken its own conscience and take a decision that will bar such processes. Similarly, for television news, you have the News Broadcasters Association. I’m hopeful that such a similar body will also emerge for social media at least in the news, opinion and entertainment content,” Irani said.
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Both PCI and NBA will be given 15 days to rule on the complaint. The journalist will be subject to suspension of accreditation if the complaint is lodged in either of the two authorized body against him with the charges of fake news. It added, “The accreditation shall be suspended for a period of six months in the first violation and for one year in the case of second violation, and in the event of third violation it would be canceled permanently.”
Fake news is indeed a menace and competition in the news media industry have led the media houses, in the desperation to raise their TRP, to fall back on disseminating wrong and sensational information with fake news.
Anant Goenka, executive director at the Indian Express Group, said “Hyper commercialization in the news industry is to blame for the advent of fake news. Issues now are that the majority of fake news comes from online operators, and this release only concerns print and TV players. Secondly, history has shown us that the government shouldn’t be involved in punishing the free press. To be the arbiter of what is an innocuous error and an intent of propagating false information is a very complex job, and the industry must find its own solution.”
However, before celebrating it should be considered that there are some risks to this new legislation. If the government is free and fair regarding fake news, all is hunky dory. However, successive governments can use it as a tool to punish the press that lobbies against the incumbent. If this becomes the case, it will be a ploy to stifle free press and use the press for the advantage of the ruling government. This is can turn out to be quite a dangerous precedent as it will mark the beginning of the end of democracy in India.