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OPINION | Five Problems With The I&B Ministry's 'Fake News' Circular

The Information and Broadcasting ministry on April 2 issued a circular laying down a protocol for dealing with fake news appearing in "various mediums (sic) including print and electronic media".

VVP Sharma | @vvemuri

Updated:April 7, 2018, 3:46 PM IST
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OPINION | Five Problems With The I&B Ministry's 'Fake News' Circular
File photo of Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Smriti Irani.
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The government wants to stop the spread of fake news. The Information and Broadcasting ministry on April 2 issued a circular laying down a protocol for dealing with fake news appearing in "various mediums (sic) including print and electronic media". It detailed how it will punish accredited journalists found faking news – ranging from suspension of government accreditation to revocation.

The note was put up on the website of the Press Information Bureau. Reactions to the order were mixed. The order may have been nixed on the order of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but the glaring shortcomings must be discussed anyhow.

Firstly, the title of the PIB press note is hilarious. It says the new guidelines are to "regulate" fake news – as in "good" fake news is okay, but "bad" fake news is not okay. Had this been a headline in a newspaper, the desk person's head would have rolled by now. Is it that the I&B ministry has no intention of "fighting" or "banning" or even "curbing" fake news? It is happy with merely "regulating" it? Like what? One fake news a day? Or two? Or three?

Secondly, it talks of fake news as if the phrase is understood by one and all. What is the definition of fake news? Sometimes, where national security is concerned, the media intentionally withholds crucial facts or shifts attention to somewhere else. Or, in case of a rape victim, it uses a fake name to identify the person – like Nirbhaya. It is technically fake, but is it fake news? No. You cannot have a new law or legislation or order about something without defining what that something is.

Thirdly, the guidelines can come into force only when there is a complaint. Should the complaint be filed with the I&B ministry? The note did not elaborate. I am sure there will be a deluge of complaints – after all the note does not say the complaints should not be fake.

Fourthly, either there are no digital media accredited journalists or it doesn't matter if accredited journalists work also for the web because the note did not mention the new media at all. Strange, considering much of the so-called (in the absence of any definition in the note) fake news traverses through the web and social media.

And lastly, the last para of the note was clueless. "While examining the requests seeking accreditation..." it begins. Is it about new accreditation applications or re-accreditation requests from journalists whose accreditations were suspended, etc? Nobody knows.

The larger issues of freedom of the Press, government’s intention to ensure "clean" news, and of democracy can be taken up later.

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| Edited by: Bijaya Das
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