Differentiating fake news from facts can often be difficult. Photo: iStock

In a move to curb fake news, on Monday the Narendra Modi-led government laid down guidelines stating that if a journalist is found to have “created and/or propagated” fake news they can be suspended or have their accreditation cancelled.

However, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has asked the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting to withdraw the guidelines. He has also called for the press release regarding fake news to be withdrawn and added that the matter should only be addressed in  the Press Council of India.

The press release from the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (I&B) stated that the Press Council of India (PCI) and the News Broadcasters Association (NBA), the two regulatory bodies for print and television media respectively, will determine whether news is fake.

“Once a complaint is registered for determination of fake news, the accreditation of the journalist who created and/or propagated the fake news will be suspended till such time the determination regarding the fake news is made by the regulating agencies mentioned above,” the press release said. “On receiving any complaints of such instances of fake news it would be referred to the PCI if it pertains to print media and to NBA if it relates to electronic media, for determination of the news item being fake or not.”

The Accreditation Committee of the Press Information Bureau “shall be invariably be reached out for validating any accreditation request of any news media agency,” the press release added. “The regulatory agencies will examine whether the ‘Norms of Journalistic Conduct’ and ‘Code of Ethics and Broadcasting Standards’ prescribed by the PCI and NBA respectively are adhered to by the journalists and it would be obligatory for journalists to abide by these guidelines.”

The determination of fake news is “expected to be completed within 15 days” by the authorities. If confirmed, the journalist’s accreditation will be suspended for six months for the first violation, one year for the second and permanently cancelled after a third violation, the press release added.

A journalist gets accreditation from the Press Information Bureau after at least “five years’ experience as a full-time working journalist.” Freelance journalists need to have 15 years experience and foreign correspondents five years with a valid work visa.

The guidelines were issued after at least 13 government ministers, including I&B Minister Smriti Irani, tweeted links from a website claiming to have busted four major fake news stories. According to The Indian Express, whose stories were among the four labeled fake news, the website shared its landline telephone number with the BlueKraft Digital Foundation, a technology and knowledge partner to Prime Minister Modi’s latest book, “Exam Warriors.”

The BlueKraft Digital Foundation was founded by Hitesh Jain and Rajesh Jain in 2016. Rajesh Jain was involved in Modi’s campaign for 2014 Lok Sabha elections and is a former part-time member in the Unique Identification Authority of India.

The company’s founding CEO Akhilesh Mishra was also a part of Modi’s 2014 campaign. Before joining BlueKraft he was the content director of MyGov.in, the government’s citizen engagement platform.

Meanwhile, addressing concerns that the new guidelines could be used to “harass honest reporters,” I&B Minister Smriti Irani said “whether a news article/broadcast is fake or not will be determined by PCI & NBA; both of whom I’m sure you know are not controlled/operated by GOI (Government of India).”

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