Centre alone cannot determine fake news, says Editors Guild

Editors Guild opposes proposed amendment to IT Rules, says it serves to make it easier to muzzle free press, and give sweeping powers to the Press Information Bureau

Updated - January 19, 2023 09:24 am IST

Published - January 18, 2023 08:02 pm IST - New Delhi

The logo of Editors Guild of India.

The logo of Editors Guild of India.

Expressing concern over a draft amendment made to the Information Technology Rules-2021 by the Ministry of Electronics and IT (MeitY), which empowers the Press Information Bureau (PIB) to “fact-check” contents and direct social media platforms to take down anything deemed “fake”, the Editors Guild of India (EGI) on Wednesday sought its removal.

The Guild also urged the Ministry to initiate consultations with press bodies, media organisations, and other stakeholders, on the regulatory framework for digital media, “so as to not undermine press freedom”.

The EGI said the draft rule -- uploaded on the Ministry’s website on Tuesday -- would give authority to the PIB to determine the veracity of news reports and anything termed ‘fake’ would have to be taken down by online intermediaries, including social media platforms.

“...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,” said the Guild.

The EGI said the words “in respect of any business of the Central government” seemed to give the government a “carte blanche” to determine what was 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 said.

Earlier, the Guild had raised concerns over 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 those rules had the potential to place unreasonable restrictions on digital news media, and consequently media at large, said the EGI statement.

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