India: Andhra Pradesh government pushes for power to sue on fake news

The Andhra Pradesh government has submitted a proposal to allow department secretaries to sue media organisations for alleged “fake news”. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its affiliate the Indian Journalists Union (IJU) denounce the submission as a strategic curtailing of freedom and calls on the government to withdraw the proposal immediately.

Credit: IFJ

On October 16, the cabinet of Jagan Mohan Reddy empowered secretaries of various departments to file defamatory cases against various, including print, electronic, digital and social media. According to IJU, the departments have been guided to take legal action to sue media organisations for “negative” stories or stories they believe to be without evidence.

A similar order was passed in 2007, which was quashed by the Andhra High Court. The Chief Minister’s office defended the new proposal stating the decision was made as secretaries are better placed in monitoring the news, picking up the distortions, giving rejoinders and taking it to the logical conclusion”.

IJU expressed their grave concern over Andhra Pradesh government’s threat to the media.

IJU said: “While all journalists must uphold the basic principle of journalism and maintain professional integrity, the decision of the Andhra Pradesh cabinet is a systematic efforts to curtail freedom of expression and therefore it is simply unacceptable. The decision gives undue advantage to the government departments to hide their weaknesses by discouraging investigative journalism.”

The IFJ joins the IJU in calling on the Andhra Pradesh government to respect the country’s constitutionally enshrined freedom of speech and expression and retract the order immediately.

The IFJ said: “This proposal is an outrageous attack on the independence of the media by a government and should be strongly condemned. Journalists serve the vital role of shining a light on power and holding them to account. Should a government be given entitlement to determine editorially what is real or so-called fake news makes a mockery of democracy and the public’s right to know. Importantly, it undermines the role of the media in holding the government accountable.”