Bengaluru/New Delhi: Crackdown on press freedom not a solution to tackle ‘fake news’

Reacting to reports of the withdrawal of an executive order issued by the central government that allowed journalists’ accreditation to be suspended by non-government regulatory agencies if they were accused of disseminating ‘fake news’, Aakar Patel, Executive Director, Amnesty International India said,

“The withdrawal of the Information and Broadcasting Ministry’s order is welcome. This appeared to be a brazen attempt to control the media under the façade of controlling ‘fake news’, and target critics of the government.

“While intentionally misleading and deceitful reports are a real problem, the solution is not to crack down on press freedom. The government should instead take steps to promote a free, independent and diverse environment for the media.”

“Several government spokesperson have been known to disseminate disinformation which they should know to be false, on social media and on television. This dangerous trend needs to stop.”

In 2017, a Joint Declaration of Freedom of Expression focusing on “fake news”, disinformation and propaganda by international human rights experts including the UN Special Rapporteur of Freedom of Expression and Opinion deplored attempts by governments to cause “interference in the operations of public and private media outlets, including by denying accreditation to their journalists”. The Declaration reiterated that the right to freedom of expression could only be restricted in accordance with international standards, namely that the restrictions be provided for by law, serve a legitimate recognized interest, and be necessary and proportionate to protect that interest.