Update: ANI reports that the press release regarding changes to the Accreditation norms has been withdrawn, following a directive from the Prime Minister.

Earlier: A committee “senior officers, reps of PCI, NBA, IBF set up for regulations/ policy for digital broadcasting & News portals”, the Information and Broadcasting Minister Smriti Irani tweeted yesterday, responding to journalist Suhasini Haider’s comment that the order released yesterday suggests that the government only intends to penalise only those who are accredited – the mainstream media – and that this doesn’t extend to websites that “openly flout journalistic ethics”.

Irani’s point that there is no scope for regulation of digital media unless there are regulations for it is technically, quite correct. However, note that there was accreditation for online news: online publications like Rediff have accredited journalists. Back in 2014, we had mentioned these guidelines while reporting on Newslaundry applying for approval for FDI. That doesn’t document is no longer online. It used to be at http://mib.nic.in/WriteReadData/documents/in2.pdf. In that context, the ministers statement that there are no rules governing accreditation of online journalists isn’t exactly correct.

We checked, and on the 20th of March 2018, a committee was reconstituted by the I&B ministry as the “Central Press Accreditation committee”. We’re not sure if this is the committee which will create regulations for online media, but it consists of AP Frank Noronha, Principal DG, Press Information Bureau; a representative of the Press Council of India; A representative of the News Broadcasters Association; Prashant Mishra, Political Editor of Dainik Jagran; Navika Kumar, Editor of Times Now; Kanchan Gupta, Commissioning Editor of ABP News; J Gopikrishna, Investigative Journalists, Pioneer; Smita Prakash, Editor (News), ANI.

This comes at a time when the Government has amended the guidelines for Accreditation of Journalists to regulate Fake News. A quick overview:

  • This applies to both creation and/or propagation of the fake news
  • On receiving any complaints of fake news, the Ministry will refer it to the Press Council of India (for print media) and News Broadcasters Association (for TV), to determine whether the item is fake or not.
  • PCI or NBA will be expected to determine the accuracy of the item within 15 days, based on “Norms of Journalistic Conduct” from PCI, and “Code of Ethics and Broadcasting Standards” by NBA
  • The journalist, if accredited, have the accreditation suspended till such time the determination regarding the fake news is made.
  • Accreditation will be suspended for 6 months on the first violation, one year in case of 2nd, and permanently in case of a third violation.

MediaNama’s take

1. Who’s a journalist anyway? What’s a publication and a TV Channel? On the Internet, every commentator is a journalist. Journalism today is not the exclusive prerogative of journalists: it’s an activity, with due diligence. How will the I&B ministry regulate online news without this having a negative impact on free speech?

2. What’s the point of accreditation anyway? I’m reminded of a call I once got from the founder and editor of a publication, which had received a defamation notice following a story. “We should ask the ministry for accreditation and registration, so that these people can’t bully us,” he suggested. I don’t, quite frankly, understand this need for accreditation, but I know very little of its benefits. Where it makes a difference, is if you want access: you often can’t attend government events, or go on foreign trips with the Prime Minister. As a journalist, you’re probably also protected against your employers under the working journalists act, and get some concessions in terms of fares in Indian Railways etc.

Accreditation is a lever that the government has for controlling activities of journalists.

In the same vein, ‘registration’ and ‘uplinking and downlinking’ permissions are levers for controlling the existence of TV channels and newspapers, and it makes them susceptible to government control. In the same way, the carrot here is that accreditation gives you access to government advertising, which becomes another lever for control.

If you’re not accredited and you don’t want it, how does it matter?

3. Change of plans? Back in December 2016,  a little over a year and a quarter ago, the government had said in response to an RTI from Aroon Deep, that there was no intention to regulate online content (i.e. digital broadcasting).

Questions
Please provide the following information.i) Whether MIB is in any way empowered to regulate/censor cinema or TV shows distributed online, eg. Netflix and Hotstar.
ii) Whether MIB is pursuing the creation of any regulatory framework that would allow censorship of films/documentaries/TV shows online.
iii) If so, details of such regulatory framework, or minutes of meetings where digital censorship has been discussed.

Response
[The] Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) primarily certifies films for theatrical release in accordance with the provisions of [the] Cinematograph Act, 1952, [and the] Cinematograph (Certification) Rules, 1983. [The] Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has no control over films appearing online. At present, the Ministry is not pursuing the creation of any regulatory framework for censorship of content appearing on the internet.
(emphasis ours)

So what has changed since? This can’t be owing to the Cambridge Analytica revelations, since this would have taken more time to plan and execute.

4. FDI in online news? While there are restrictions on print and TV news entities, in terms of how much foreign direct investment they can raise, there are no clear restrictions and/or guidelines for online media. I’m reminded of a TRAI consultation on digitisation of cable TV many years ago – one that was so overrun by cable operators that the TRAI had to restrict entry; in that instance, TV anchor Arnab Goswami, which has since founded a channel called Republic spoke about how there is no regulation for online news: that a Huffington Post can serve news to Indian users, while others can’t. The only news organisation, in recent memory, that I can recollect having had to file for approval for FDI was Newslaundry in 2014.

5. Public consultation? If anything has to be done about Fake News, it should be done in an open consultative manner, with a democratic process and public participation and transparency. The Ministry needs to look at the TRAI for probably the best approach to public consultations.

Press Information Bureau
Government of India
Ministry of Information & Broadcasting
02-April-2018 21:03 IST
Guidelines for Accreditation of Journalists Amended to Regulate Fake News

Noticing the increasing instances of fake news in various mediums including print and electronic media, the Government has amended the Guidelines for Accreditation of Journalists. Now on receiving any complaints of such instances of fake news, the same would get referred to the Press Council of India (PCI) if it pertains to print media & to News Broadcasters Association (NBA) if it relates to electronic media, for determination of the news item being fake or not.

Determination is expected to be completed within 15 days by these regulating agencies. Once the complaint is registered for determination of fake news, the correspondent/journalist whoever created and/or propagated the fake news will, if accredited, have the accreditation suspended till such time the determination regarding the fake news is made by the regulating agencies mentioned above.

The Accreditation Committee of the PIB which consists of representative of both PCI and NBA shall be invariably be reached out to for validating any accreditation request of any news media agency. While any confirmation of publication or telecast of fake news having been confirmed by any of these agencies, the accreditation shall be suspended for a period of 6 months in the first violation and for one year in the case of 2 nd violation and in the event of 3rd violation it would be cancelled permanently.

While examining the requests seeking accreditation, the regulatory agencies will examine whether the `Norms of Journalistic Conduct’ and `Code of Ethics and Broadcasting Standards’ prescribed by the PCI and NBA respectively are adhered to by the journalists as part of their functioning. It would be obligatory for journalists to abide by these guidelines.