The amendment enables the 'government to determine what is fake news and then take it down.
Published: 25 Jan 2023, 9:34 AM IST
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“The determination of fake news cannot be in the sole hands of the government and will result in the censorship of the press."
The Editor's Guild of India (EGI) has said this in a statement while expressing "deep concern" over the draft amendments to IT Rules 2021, which allows the Press Information Bureau (PIB) to determine the veracity of news reports.
What is this about? This amendment, which was uploaded by the Ministry of Electronics and IT (MEITY) on their website on 17 January, says that if PIB terms anything as 'fake' it will have to be taken down by online intermediaries, including social media platforms.
Why does this matter? Expressing concern over this mechanism, EGI's statement added that multiple laws already exist to deal with factually incorrect content and:
"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."
How? According to the Editor's Guild the intent of the rules is "Orwellian and unconstitutional" because:
The role of the PIB, as is evident from a note on its website, is limited to dissemenating information to news organisations on affairs of the government and this gives it sweeping powers
the amendement is arbitrary with the absence of any rules and procudures determining what is in fact, fake or false
There are no checks and balances or procedural safeguards mentioned in the amendment
So, what is EGI demanding? In its latest statement, the guild has thus, asked the government to "expunge this amendment" and "to initiate meaningful consultations with press bodies, media organisations, and other stakeholders."
Earlier, the guild had raised its concerns over the IT Rules when they were first introduced in March 2021, claiming that they empower the 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."