New Delhi (Sputnik): A day after unveiling a set of rules aimed at penalizing journalists for propagating "fake news," the government of India has withdrawn the measure after it sparked an unprecedented outcry among journalists and proponents of the free press.
"This is to inform that the Press release on Fake News regulation issued yesterday i.e. 02 April 2018 stands withdrawn," the Information and Broadcasting Ministry said in a clarification issued Tuesday afternoon.
PMO seems to have asked I&B Ministry to withdraw the draconian diktat on ‘fake news.’ While better sense may have prevailed at this moment, don’t these things get discussed before orders are issued?— Rahul Kanwal (@rahulkanwal) April 3, 2018
PM Modi asks @smritiirani to withdraw fake news circular. What does that mean? Smriti did this without consulting PMO? Or PM wanted to make it a test case?
— nikhil wagle (@waglenikhil) April 3, 2018
Indian government's speedy withdrawal of its proposed crackdown on "Fake News"
reminds me of the time they tried to ban porn 💋— Annie Gowen (@anniegowen) April 3, 2018
Earlier on Monday, the ministry had issued a press release announcing that any journalist found propagating any information that is found to be fake, would have his accreditation suspended or revoked.
"Once the complaint is registered for determination of fake news, the correspondent/journalist whoever created and/or propagated the fake news will, if accredited, have the accreditation suspended till such time the determination regarding the fake news is made by the regulating agencies (Press Council of India & News Broadcasters Association)," the press release, now taken off the information ministry's website, read.
"While any confirmation of publication or telecast of fake news having been confirmed by any of these agencies, the accreditation shall be suspended for a period of 6 months in the first violation and for one year in the case of 2nd violation and in the event of 3rd violation it would be cancelled permanently," the ministry added.
Accreditation is required for journalists to visit government offices and attend news conferences and seminars organized by government departments.
Journalists alleged that the draconian rules were basically aimed at stifling press freedom as the country goes to polls next year.
"(It is) a breathtaking assault on mainstream media." Shekhar Gupta, former editor of the Indian Express, tweeted.
"This is an attack on the freedom of the press. The draconian order could be misused against genuine journalists," said Gautam Lahiri, president of the Press Club of India.
If you take away govt accreditation of journalists for writing fake news then most journos will lose their accreditition because they faithfully reported every economic promise made by Modi, and even repeated them later!— M K Venu (@mkvenu1) April 3, 2018
India identifies itself as the world's largest democracy but its media operates under heavy constraints. The most recent World Press Freedom Index — from the media advocacy group Reporters Without Borders — ranked India 136 out of 180 countries, down three spots from the previous year.
Only last week, three journalists were mowed down by speeding vehicles in two different Indian states. Families and fellow journalists allege they were murdered for having reported on corruption.