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Fact-Check provision in new IT rules is press censorship: INS

Nagaland News

NEW DELHI, APRIL 13: The Indian Newspaper Society on Wednesday urged the Centre to withdraw the amendments to the IT Rules 2021, saying the provision allowing the Government to set up a fact-check body to label contents related to it “fake” or “misleading” is tantamount to “censorship” and violates of freedom of expression.
As per the newly notified rules, the INS noted, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology will enjoy the power to constitute a fact-check unit, which will have sweeping powers to determine what is “fake or false or misleading” with respect to “any business of the Central Government”.
The said unit will also have the power to issue instructions to intermediaries, including social media platforms, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and other service providers, to not host such content and take it down if already published, the INS added.
“The Indian Newspaper Society is deeply disturbed by the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Amendment Rules, 2023 (IT Amendment Rules, 2023), issued by the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology on April 6, 2023”, the media body said in a statement.
The INS is “constrained” to state that this would have the effect of the Government or its designated agency enjoying “absolute power” to determine what is fake in respect of its own work, and order it to be taken down, the media body said.
“Such power is seen to be arbitrary, as it is exercised without hearing the parties, and thus a violation of all principles of natural justice and has the effect of the complainant acting as the Judge”, it added.
It is also to be noted that the so-called fact-check unit can be constituted by the Ministry through a simple notification published in the Official Gazette, the INS said.
“The notified rules do not specify as to what would be the governing mechanism for such a fact-check unit, what sort of judicial oversight would be available in the exercise of its powers, whether there would be the right to appeal and so on”, it said.
“All this, we are constrained to say, tantamounts to censorship of the Press, and thus a violation of the principle of freedom of expression”, it added.
The INS said the Ministry had promised to hold consultations with media organisations and media bodies when it was “constrained” to withdraw the draft amendments it had put out in January 2023, following widespread criticism from media organisations.
“It is a matter of regret that no attempt has been made by the Ministry to hold any meaningful consultation with the stakeholders i.e. the media organisations or practitioners, before notifying this amendment”, it said.
The result is that the new set of rules, notified on April 6, shows “hardly” any significant improvement from the draft amendments put out in January 2023, it added.
“In view of the above facts, and in adherence to the principles of natural justice and the guarantees of freedom of speech and expression enshrined in our Constitution, the Indian Newspaper Society urges the Government to withdraw this notification”, the media body said.
The Government should hold widespread and meaningful consultations with stakeholders such as media organisations and press bodies before coming out with any notification which would have serious implications on the profession of media, and its credibility, it said.