By Parth Govilkar, School of Law, University of Mumbai.

In an unparalleled move by the Information and Broadcasting Ministry on 2nd April, 2018, a directive was issued, stating that, the journalists who would be found guilty of writing or broadcasting fake news would have their accreditation withdrawn for a limited period or permanently, depending upon the frequency of the offence. If a journalist would be accused of publishing fake news, then in the first instance, accreditation would be suspended for 6 months; for 1 year in case of a second complaint and permanent cancellation if the offence is repeated.

The Press Information Bureau, who overlook the print media and the News Broadcasters Association, who overlook the TV media, shall determine whether the news is fake or not, after the complaint is registered against the journalist. Now, this development was unanticipated by the media and our citizenry.

After a strong blow-back from the media & the fragmented opposition, the PM ordered the I&B ministry to withdraw the order as abruptly as it was introduced. The point which remains ignored is that the PMO said that they were caught unawares by the directive. My question to the readers is whether it is possible, when not a leaf moves but by the Prime Ministers will (which has come to light in most cases), you think that such a far reaching memorandum was drafted by the I&B Ministry without consulting the PMO?

It is a common saying that bullies do not persevere and I think that every time such a biased and/or unconstitutional decision is made, there shall be a tsunami of backlash that will force the government to withdraw such a decision. The great skill that the current government seems to possess, with regard to controlling the headlines and going on to believe that they have managed the situation seems to have run its course. The people of this country are way above the self praising politicians who run media houses and promote their propaganda. The Directive was just another instrument that the government was employing to suppress freedom of speech and freedom of press in the run up to the General Elections of 2019.

Propagating agenda through manufactured or fake news is an old manoeuvre, however social media is equally to be blamed for this. The reach of social media is immense. The print media has a fixed deadline to operate, that is, 24 hours and for the TV media, it is an hourly cycle but the extent of social media is limitless. The internet is the new media, we do need rules but we do not need such repressive rules that shall curb the angst of the downtrodden. What the government needs to do now is to revisit the old and be creative in framing  forward looking guidelines for reaching a positive end. The Press Information Bureau and the National Board of Accreditation, which are the so called ‘autonomous bodies’ should be made entirely independent from governmental control, rather than asking them to or letting them appoint members to their Panels, from the ruling party itself.

The government should subsidize its stand on intolerance and learn to “AGREE TO DISAGREE”.