Officials of a district in the Bundelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh have been accused of trying to suppress media freedom by monitoring WhatsApp media groups and threatening criminal action against journalists not following its directives.However, the administration on Sunday said it was a move to check circulation of fake news and the presence of “fake media portals”. In a joint directive issued by Lalitpur District Magistrate Manvendra Singh and Superintendent of Police O.P. Singh, the admins of all WhatsApp media groups operating in the district had been told to get their groups registered with the District Information Officer or face action.“No WhatsApp media group in the district will be allowed to operate without registration and if found doing so, a case will be registered against the admin of the group under relevant sections of the IT Act,” the two-page directive said.The administration said that it took the step in view of increasing complaints of incidents in which “fake journalists” were intimidating and extorting money from the local people and government staff.“News channels and YouTube portals have been circulating news and rumours that have caused a threat to the social harmony and unity of the district. The district also has many news portals that are not registered anywhere, and do not have a regulatory authority laid down for them,” the directive said.The administration has also specified that no news portal will be allowed to function in Lalitpur without its approval.Clarifying on the directive, the District Magistrate said it was not to restrain the general media but to prevent the misuse of the platform by “fake” news channels and portals.Extortion charges“It is for those who claim to be news channels but have no registration to show it. They go and extort money from people … we have been receiving complaints,” Mr. Singh told The Hindu.He explained that the trigger for the directive came after a recent incident at Kursi village in Mehroni tehsil, where a portal spread news that some people had been denied entry into a temple, creating tension. “We had to deploy forces in the area even when there was nothing of that sort happening,” the District Magistrate said.