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Mudda panellists feel that responsibility is implicit in the profession of a journalist, only Press Council of India should have power to take such calls and not retrospectively

The government issued an order saying that journalists could be denied government access or PIB accreditation on the accusation of fake news. However, later the press release was withdrawn as the PM said that fake news issues should be handled by the Press Council of India. Is the government looking at ways to gag the press?

The issue was discussed at APN’s popular debate show, Mudda, with panellists including BJP’s Anand Sahu, Congress’ Dr Hilal Naqvi, noted journalists Atul Chandra, Ravindra Singh, Haseeb Siddiqui, Kulsum Mustafa and Dr Piyush Pant, and APN consultant Govind Pant Raju.

Anchorperson Anant posed the first question to Sahu who said that “democracy entails responsibilities. Rights and duties go hand in hand. Even the SC has stated that Dalit cases need to be examined before they are filed, so things can’t be taken at face value.” Anant said Sahu is clubbing two different issues together.

Pant said that it’s obvious that the government effort was to muzzle the press. “The government feels the ground slipping, so the effort was to gag the press,” he said.

Mustafa said freedom of speech and freedom of press are fundamental rights. “These orders reflect the government thinking. Was the effort to float a controversial decision just to see people’s reaction, as it was later hurriedly withdrawn? It’s a confused state of affairs. It’s reflective of an underlying deeper malaise.”

Raju said “on one level, if one looks at it, the press cannot be allowed to indulge in rumour mongering and fake news. The press has a huge responsibility, and the effort to ensure responsibility is not wrong. In the past too, Bihar Bill was protested by the press. Only a small section of the press has PIB accreditation. If the effort is to ensure responsible press, there’s nothing wrong in that.”

Siddiqui said: “Many journalists go to work without doing their homework. This order shows the government too did no homework. “

Naqvi said: “The PM had to intervene. I don’t know who Sahu is defending, the PM or the minister (Smriti Irani) who issued the order? In any case, it’s a lopsided order.  It raises many questions. Does the government assume that only accredited journalists are responsible for fake news? Who will decide which news is fake?”

Singh said: “Fake news is unethical. It’s also correct that the government gets upset about news critical of its policies. Newspaper owners have their own business interests, and journalists are compelled to go along.”

Chandra said FB and Twitter routinely post fake news.

Sahu said rumour mongering has become common.  On Naqvi’s asking, he said, both Modi and Irani are right, even though Irani announced the order and the PM scrapped it.  “How is the PM responsible for SSC paper leak?” he asked.

Pant said ministers tend to go overboard at times.

Mustafa said: “There’s a difference between paid news and fake news. Journalists alone are not responsible, the business of journalism also has to be considered. PCI is responsible for looking at fake news, but it needs to be considered if it has the teeth to check the problem. Journalists should be given an opportunity to explain. It’s our duty to paint the right picture, but one needs to see what the mirror is reflecting.”

Sahu said the power of pen and camera entail responsibility.

Raju said journalism is not just any profession, it’s the fourth pillar of democracy.

Chandra said “the media too needs to introspect”.

Siddiqui said: “In our democracy, no separate powers are given to the press. Those indulging in fake news will have to fake the music. We show the mirror to the government, which many times, it does not like, and that’s why the press gets targeted.”

—Compiled by Niti Singh Bhandari

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