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PM Modi strikes down Smriti Irani’s ‘fake news’ order

After facing widespread criticism, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday ordered the Information and Broadcasting Ministry to withdraw its order laying down new guidelines punishing journalists for fake news.

Soon after, the I&B Ministry issued a statement, saying its press release regarding fake news put out by it last night “stands withdrawn”, reported The Indian Express.

In the press release last night, the I&B ministry had cited rising fake news to announce that it had amended guidelines for journalists’ accreditation stating that if a journalist is found to have “created and/or propagated” fake news, the journalist’s accreditation will be suspended for six months or a year for a second violation or permanently cancelled.

It had said that the Press Council of India and the News Broadcasters Association, the two regulatory bodies for print and TV media respectively, will determine whether the news is fake or not. And that the journalist’s accreditation would be suspended once a complaint is registered until either body decides — within 15 days — if it is fake or not.

Following the statement, Media bodies and Opposition parties slammed this order calling it an attempt to curb press freedom ahead of the general elections in 2019.

I&B Minister Smriti Irani, until past midnight Tuesday, was defending and explaining her ministry’s directive that was issued at 8.55 pm.

The Indian Express quoted its sources as saying that that the PMO was “not consulted” and was unaware of Irani’s directive until it became public. “A fuming Prime Minister told his office to direct the I&B Ministry to withdraw the directive with immediate effect,” said an official.

The Prime Minister, sources said, was annoyed with the “timing and tone” of the directive. “The feeling was that this is a time when the ministry should have been working with the media given the Dalit protests and the CBSE exam goof-up. Instead of protecting the government’s image, the I&B ministry dented it,” said a source in the government.

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