Freedom of press has been guaranteed by the constitution, but it is a fact that no government at the centre has allowed the freedom of press in real sense. However, the Modi government is gagging the press in a sophisticated way. The ministry concerned is openly muzzling the press, but the PMO is stepping in to support the press. In the process, the Minister for Information and Broadcasting Smriti Irani was snubbed by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi who ordered to withdraw the guidelines issued by her ministry. On April 2, the minister issued certain guidelines to curb the fake news. It was instructed that if a journalist is found to release or spread fake news, his or her accreditation would be suspended for six months. If he or she commits the crime again his or her press card would be suspended for one year and if the erring scribe committed the crime thrice the accreditation would be cancelled. The press and the opposition leaders blasted the government. The PMO had been alert and the Prime Minister ordered to withdraw the guidelines. Consequently the order was abolished. The ministry said the guidelines stood cancelled on the fiat of the PMO. An official in the PMO said the Prime Minister was of the opinion that the government should not interfere into the functioning of the press. The Ministry was told that the matter should be left to the Press Council of India.
It was not clear whether the ministry consulted the Press Council of India before issuing the guidelines. However the next day when the guidelines were taken back, the Press Council chairman Justice C K Prasad endorsed the guidelines and said no one should support the fake news. If the Ministry did not consult the Press Council of India, Justice C K Prasad should not have endorsed the guidelines. Now the PMO is taking credit that it supported the freedom of press. Such matters related to the functioning of the press should be dealt with by the Press Council of India. However, the highest body is seldom active to regularize the press.
Today a section of the media, particularly the electronic media is simply toeing the line of the government and there is general presumption that a section of the media was bought by the ruling BJP and this is the section of the press which is creating fake news. Not the opposition but the government is more benefited by the fake news. Ignoring this factor, the opposition severely criticized the Ministry’s guidelines. The Congress said fascism reached the Nadir and the government was bent on muzzling the press. The West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said it was brazen and draconian move to curb the press. No doubt the fake news which is exploited by political parties particularly during election season should be curbed by heavy hand but the government should not be sitting in judgment.