The News Broadcasters & Digital Association (NBDA) on Monday sought the withdrawal of a draft amendment to the Information Technology Rules-2021, which empowers the Press Information Bureau’s fact-check unit, or any other agency authorised by the Centre, to get the social media platforms to remove the contents identified by it as fake or false.
The Association said conferring such powers on the government without any checks and balances would result in “muzzling the fourth pillar of democracy and also have a chilling effect on the media”.
The amendment, which has been proposed by the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology, would stifle the freedom of speech and expression of the media guaranteed under Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution, it said.
In a statement, the NBDA said the amendment would give the PIB and the Central government excessive powers to regulate digital news content without any scrutiny. It would directly affect the news media as the intermediaries might be coerced or directed by the PIB or any other agency to take down alleged “fake news” content without following the principles of natural justice. “This will also result in preventing any comment or criticism of the government,” it said.
Quoting a part of the proposed amendment, the NBDA said the words “...in respect of any business of the Central government, by its department in which such business is transacted under the rules of business made under clause (3) of Article 77 of the Constitution” would result in the suppression of any legitimate criticism or analysis of the government and its policies by the news media.
“There are sufficient legislations, regulations and statutory bodies, which regulate the news media. Therefore, introducing the aforementioned amendment would lead to excessive regulation by the government which is neither desirable nor acceptable. This kind of censorship is not envisaged by the Constitution,” it said.