Free Press Journal

It was a collective goof-up


New Delhi : One can clearly see a loss of control and panic setting in now, said Rahul Gandhi, bestowing the authorship of the mindless media diktat on the Prime Minister.

Other Congress leaders immediately took the cue and strongly contested the word spread by BJP activists that Prime Minister Modi had intervened to negate the coercive move, asserting that it was a collective conspiracy of the government to target honest journalists.

The Congress does not like to be reminded that there was a similar attempt to gag the media by late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1988, with the avowed aim of curbing “yellow journalism” by small district-level magazines and newspapers.  The entire Media had then protested with newspaper owners like Ramnath Goenka rubbing shoulders with journalists and press workers in a march from India Gate that forced the government to quietly bury the Defamation Bill.

Journalist organisations on Tuesday held an angry meeting in the Press Club of India hours after the government quashed its “fake news” bombshell and vowed to be ever cautious of any other steps the government may take to control the media.

The Congress sees the withdrawal of the media order as the second retreat by the Government in two days – with it first becoming nervous at the nationwide protest by Dalits and trying to get the SC/ST Act diluted by the Supreme Court, by making weak submissions through a junior-rank law officer.

Other party leaders said these developments betray signs of nervousness because of the overall chaotic situation on all fronts. “Banks have been looted, judiciary is in turmoil, Parliament is shut with a clutch of no-confidence motions pending, children came on the streets after the question paper leak, Dalits and farmers are agitating. So far, the system ran on Modi’s aura but that is evaporating and there is no crisis management mechanism in this Government,” a Congress functionary underlined.

Surprised at the quick rollback, the Congress particularly viewed the media bungling as a sign of desperation and promptly intensified the attack. Anand Sharma said: “The Prime Minister is the biggest beneficiary of fake news. They know more than anybody in the world about fake news. The committee they have formed that will monitor fake news is full of journalists who manufacture fake news day in and day out to favour the Government.”

He insisted that the “fake news” press note issued on Monday night was a ploy to target honest journalists. “They were testing waters. The Government’s mentality is that only their narrative, their version of the incidents, should reach the masses. They are churning fake news on an industrial scale. They wanted to suppress media; to send out a message to the honest journalists that they will be rewarded if they manufactured news.”

Other Congress leaders pointed out how Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ananth Kumar blames the Congress in the Lok Sabha every day for creating ruckus, so that honest journalists are shy of reporting what they see with their own eyes – the AIADMK members’ pandemonium in the well forcing adjournments and keeping the 6-party sponsored no-confidence motion in suspense for the last 11 days. This is how the “fake news” of the Congress disrupting Lok Sabha keeps appearing in the media, they said.

Pointing out that at least 13 ministers had recently tweeted a link to a website that declared genuine news as fake news, Congress communication chief Randeep Singh Surjewala said: “Fascism reaches its nadir as a shaky Modi Government, caught in its web of lies, seeks to muzzle all independent voices in media through fallacious rules! Will the 13 Union Ministers answer for the lame duck portal tarnishing mainstream media?”

‘Crackdown on press freedom no solution’

NEW DELHI: Several prominent journalists and representatives of press bodies on Tuesday slammed the I&B ministry’s contentious guidelines on fake news as an attempt to restrain the media and welcomed their retraction.

Senior reporters from various print media organisations, anchors from well-known TV channels, and representatives from the Press Club Of India, Press Association, Indian Journalists Union (IJU), National Union of Journalists (NUJ), Indian Women’s Press Corps, held a joint meeting here under the aegis of the Press Club over the government’s move, which they described as “deeply worrying”.

A joint statement by several media bodies was also released at the end of the meet, saying, “There is ample scope for introspection and reform of journalistic practices; yet, a government fiat restraining the fourth pillar of our democracy is not the solution.”