20 January 2023
The Editors Guild of India is deeply concerned by the draft amendment made to the Information Technology Rules, 2021, by the Ministry of Electronics and IT (MEITY) that gives authority to the Press Information Bureau (PIB) to determine the veracity of news reports, and anything termed ‘fake’ will have to be taken down by online intermediaries, including social media platforms. The amendment was uploaded on the Ministry’s website on January 17, 2023.
At the outset, determination of fake news cannot be in the sole hands of the government and will result in the censorship of the press. Already multiple laws exist to deal with content that is found to be factually incorrect. This new procedure basically serves to make it easier to muzzle the free press, and will give sweeping powers to the PIB, or any “other agency authorised by the Central Government for fact checking”, to force online intermediaries to take down content that the government may find problematic.
Further, the words “in respect of any business of the Central Government” seems to give the government a carte blanche to determine what is fake or not with respect to its own work. This will stifle legitimate criticism of the government and will have an adverse impact on the ability of the press to hold governments to account, which is a vital role it plays in a democracy.
It must be further noted that the Guild had raised its deep concerns with the IT Rules when they were first introduced in March 2021, claiming that they empower the Union Government to block, delete, or modify published news anywhere in the country without any judicial oversight. Various provisions in these rules have the potential to place unreasonable restrictions on digital news media, and consequently media at large.
The Guild urges the Ministry to expunge this new amendment, and to initiate meaningful consultations with press bodies, media organisations, and other stakeholders, on the regulatory framework for digital media, so as to not undermine press freedom. #