Journalist accreditation order withdrawn

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The Information and Broadcasting Minister, Ms Smriti Irani, a popular television actress turned politician who defended the order on social networking site Twitter on Tuesday, said that her ministry would now reach out to journalists for suggestions on how to counter fake news. On the confirmation of publication of telecast fake news by any of these agencies, the accreditation shall be suspended for a period of 6 months in the first violation.

"The Editors Guild of India strongly condemns the arbitrary manner contemplated by the Union Information and Broadcasting (I & B) Ministry ostensibly to penalise any journalist or media organisation publishing fake news", it said.

These fake news complaints will be referred to the PCI if it falls within the purview of the print media, while the National Basketball Association will take up those pertaining to television media.

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Ministry officials said rules have also been drafted to address fake news reports written by journalists who are not accredited, details of which would be made public soon. "It would be obligatory for journalists to abide by these guidelines". Though the government subsequently withdrew the statement, journalists under the aegis of organisations such as Press Club of India, Indian Women's Press Corps, Press Association and Federation of Press Clubs of India got together to hold an open house on the issue. Moreover, news organisations are not the only source of generation of fake news with the country awash with digital platforms of all hues and opinions that operated without constraints and which had the potential to cause far more damage, the Guild said.

Faced with massive outrage, the Modi government on Tuesday beat a hasty retreat and withdrew its controversial guidelines threatening journalists with penalties for reporting "fake news".

Adding that these two regulatory bodies will complete the determination within 15 days of registration of complaint, the ministry said.

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The non-profit group that promotes and defends information and press freedom worldwide, noted that India's Hindu nationalists, on the rise since Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party swept to power in 2014, were "trying to purge all manifestations of "anti-national" thought from the national debate".

"Make no mistake: this is a breathtaking assault on mainstream media", Shekhar Gupta, a senior political journalist, tweeted after the new rules were announced.

It said that the accreditation of a journalist could be permanently cancelled if the scribe is found generating or propagating fake news. In case of third violation, the journalist will lose his or her accreditation.

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