India withdraws rules to punish '‘fake news’ after media outcry

NEW DELHI: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi yesterday ordered the withdrawal of rules punishing journalists responsible for distributing "fake news", less than 24 hours after the original announcement.

The move followed an outcry by journalists and opposition politicians that the rules were an attack on the freedom of the press and an effort by Mr Modi's government to rein in free speech ahead of a general election due by next year.

"The Prime Minister has directed that the press statement regarding fake news be withdrawn and the matter be addressed in the Press Council of India and the News Broadcasters Association," a senior official in Mr Modi's office said.

On Monday, the Information and Broadcasting Ministry had said the government would cancel its accreditation of journalists who peddled "fake news". No definition of "fake news" was given.

After Mr Modi's intervention, the ministry announced the withdrawal. Media bodies welcomed the decision but cautioned the government against trying to control the media.

"The government has no mandate to control the press," said Mr Gautam Lahiri, president of the Press Club of India.

The events in India followed Malaysia's approval of a law prescribing jail terms of up to six years for spreading fake news. Meanwhile, Singapore recently wrapped up public hearings on how to thwart online falsehoods.

India's rules proposed to strip journalists guilty of writing or broadcasting "fake news" of their government accreditations, either for a limited time or permanently, depending on the frequency of infringements. - REUTERS