New Delhi: The Press Council of India (PCI) has clarified that suspension or cancellation of accreditation of a journalist should be the last resort, that too only in "gross cases of fake news" or repeated peddling of such articles.
The PCI has been under fire from the media fraternity for the manner in which it was recently reconstituted and tasked to deal with "fake news" by the Prime Minister's Office.
Responding to the debate on "fake news" after the government's aborted bid to suspend the accreditation of journalists for such articles, PCI chairman C.K. Prasad said complaints would be dealt with by the council as per the procedure provided in the Press Council Act and the Press Council (Procedure for Inquiry) Regulations.
"However, it is only in gross cases of fake news dissemination that power to suspend or cancellation of accreditation of the journalists be resorted to. The allegations need to be determined by the council before any action is called for," Justice Prasad said in a statement issued on Tuesday night.
He also appeared to define "fake news".
"Fake news means news, story, information, data and reports which is or are wholly or partly false."
Stating that no prudent person should or can justify the dissemination of "fake news", Justice Prasad said it had become a global menace.
"If any government intends to take remedial steps to check its spread, per se, there is nothing wrong or obnoxious about it, provided that the authority to decide the truthfulness or otherwise of an allegation of fake news is entrusted to an independent statutory body like the Press Council of India," the statement said.
However, the PCI itself has come in for criticism from the media fraternity for rejecting the names sent by the Editors Guild of India, Hindi Samachar Patra Sammelan, All India Newspapers Editors Conference, Indian Newspaper Society, All India Small & Medium Newspapers Federation and the Association of Small & Medium Newspapers of India to give them representation in the council.
The Guild said in a statement on Tuesday on the bid to blacklist journalists in the name of "fake news" that the reconstitution of the PCI had been done in a manner that "gives rise to doubts over the independence of the institution and its ability to play neutral umpire".
The Guild's nominees to the PCI had been disallowed on technical grounds.
The International Press Institute said the contentious guidelines on "fake news", which had to be withdrawn, was a "misguided policy" that would have severely impaired the freedom of journalists and their ability to report on crucial issues.
"Access is an essential aspect of journalism. Without ease of access, journalists cannot perform their tasks and report facts accurately," the Vienna-based global organisation of editors, journalists and media executives said in a statement.