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India withdraws ‘fake news’ sanctions after media crackdown charges

INDIA’S prime minister Naren­dra Modi on Tuesday (3) reversed an order to punish journalists re­porting “fake news”, after an out­cry over a perceived government crackdown on the press.

The media sanctions, issued late on Monday (2), stated that the government would withdraw the official accreditation of any journalist responsible for repeat­ed reporting of “fake news”.

India is the latest government to act against what it calls “fake news”. Malaysia is passing a law allowing for up to six years in jail for publishing allegedly mislead­ing information.

The government said it needed to curb the spread of misinfor­mation in the media. But Modi’s office rescinded the directive hours later amid allegations that India’s vibrant press was being muzzled.

“PIB (Press Information Bu­reau) press release titled Guide­lines for Accreditation of Journal­ists amended to regulate Fake News issued on 02 April 2018 stands withdrawn,” the informa­tion and broadcasting ministry said in a statement on Tuesday.

Under the now withdrawn guidelines, a first offence would have led to a six-month suspen­sion of government accredita­tion. A second case would attract a year’s suspension followed by a permanent withdrawal for a third offence.

About 2,000 journalists with leading Indian media have a PIB card from the ministry, which eases access to government de­partments and ministries.

The Indian Express newspaper in a front-page headline on Tuesday said, “In the name of fake news, govt frames rules to blacklist journalists.”

“Move comes in election year,” it added.

Several journalists and activ­ists, while acknowledging the problem of fake news, criticised the government intervention.

“Accreditation is not essential to the practice of free journalism, but this debate is Trumpian in its othering of the media as enemy,” Barkha Dutt, a veteran journalist and editor of the Mojo digital news platform, said. “I don’t de­ny that fake news is a hugely val­id concern and the media should take steps to weed it out.”

She added that self-regulating industry bodies, not the govern­ment, should decide penalties.

Last Friday (30), Indian police arrested the editor of a website for publishing a fake report that Muslims had attacked a monk from the Jain faith, officials said.

Mahesh Vikram Hegde was arrested in southern Karnataka state last Thursday (29) on charges of spreading fake and com­munally sensitive news on his right-wing website, police said.

Hegde’s online Postcard news reported on March 18 that Jain monk Upadhyaya Mayank Sagarji was attacked by Muslims. Police said Sagarji was actually injured in a road accident.

“We have arrested Hegde for posting a fake news… alleging that a Jain monk was attacked by Muslims,” Bangalore joint com­missioner of police N Satish Ku­mar said.

The cyber crime police “have registered a case against the por­tal and its owner Hegde for the false news”, Kumar added.