RSF begins process to frame guidelines to fight fake news

New Delhi/Paris: As the government had to make a hasty retreat on a controversial diktat on fake news, global media rights group Reporters Without Borders today launched an 18-month long consultation process to frame guidelines to check spread of false news online.

This follows Malaysia yesterday passing a bill prescribing six-year jail term for ‘fake news’, a term that is often used by US President Donald Trump to hit at his media critics and has gained currency in India as well in recent past especially on social media.

Malaysia had earlier proposed a ten-year jail term, it has now been reduced following opposition. In India, the government had to withdraw a decision within a day following widespread criticism about the rule that threatened to cancel accreditation of journalists found to be creating or propagating fake news.

The discarded rules did not talk anything about non-accredited journalists indulging in spread of fake news.

“In the new public arena system, in which false information circulate faster than real news, the defence of journalism requires reversing this trend by giving a real advantage to all those who reliably produce news and information, whatever their status,” Reporters Without Borders (RSF’s) Secretary General Christophe Deloire said.

Journalist Trust Initiative was today launched by RSF to promote journalism by adherence to an agreed set of trust and transparency standards to be developed and implemented, the RSF said in a statement.

This will happen by means of a Workshop Agreement of the European Centre of Standardisation (CEN).

The CEN Workshop Agreement (CWA) is now up for comments and approval by all groups concerned.

Those in favour of the document will then collaborate over a time-span of 12 to 18 months to develop the actual indicators, it said.

In the latest annual survey by the RSF, India ranks 136th globally in terms of press freedom out of 180 countries and fell three places in 2017.

With Hindu nationalists trying to purge all manifestations of “anti-national” thought from the national debate, self-censorship is growing in the mainstream media, the RSF said in a statement.

Journalists are increasingly the targets of online smear campaigns by the most radical nationalists, who vilify them and even threaten physical reprisals, it said.

Prosecutions are also used to gag journalists who are overly critical of the government, with some prosecutors invoking Section 124a of the penal code, under which “sedition” is punishable by life imprisonment. No journalist has so far been convicted of sedition but the threat encourages self-censorship, it added.

Indian Prime Minister’s Office today ordered the Information and Broadcasting Ministry to withdraw its press release on fake news, holding that the decision on what constitutes fake news should be left to press bodies.

According to official sources, the PMO felt that the government should not interfere in the matter.

India’s opposition parties today attacked the central government over the now-withdrawn guidelines on fake news, with the Congress saying fascism has touched its peak and the Aam Aadmi Party and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) likening the prevailing situation to the Emergency.

President Trump, who is often at odds with CNN, has slammed the 38-year-old cable news network more than any other broadcast outlet, often referring to it as fake news.

He also gave CNN the most awards during his “2017 Fake News Awards,” with the network being mentioned for four inaccurate stories it reported last year, including one involving former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci and Russia that led to the abrupt firing of three reporters.PTI

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