Plea in Madras High Court challenges constitution of Fact Check Unit by T.N. government

AIADMK IT wing office-bearer R. Nirmal Kumar has filed the PIL petition; he said this was an attempt to curb free speech and the Opposition’s voice; he also asked how the government could constitute an FCU outside the framework of the police department

November 06, 2023 04:57 pm | Updated November 10, 2023 01:26 pm IST - CHENNAI

Iyan Karthikeyan, Mission Director of Tamil Nadu government’s Fact Check Unit

Iyan Karthikeyan, Mission Director of Tamil Nadu government’s Fact Check Unit | Photo Credit: X / @Iyankarthikeyan

A public interest litigation (PIL) petition has been filed in the Madras High Court, challenging the constitution of a Fact Checking Unit (FCU) by the Tamil Nadu government, alleging that it is ab attack on the freedom of speech, and an attempt to curb the voice of Opposition parties.

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R. Nirmal Kumar, joint secretary of the AIADMK‘s State information technology (IT) wing, has filed the PIL petition contending that the government had no authority to constitute an FCU, outside the framework of the police department, to impose unsanctioned censorship upon free speech.

Special police cells

The petitioner recalled that Justice M. Dhandapani of the High Court had, in 2020, directed the Director-General of Police (DGP) to create special cells at every police station in Tamil Nadu to crack down on those who posted derogatory and unsubstantiated allegations on social media against Constitutional functionaries and other dignitaries.

Also Read | Click here to access the G.O. issued on the constitution of Fact Check Unit in T.N.

Focus Tamil Nadu | Why is T.N. government’s fact check unit being opposed? | Video Credit: S. Shiva Raj

The direction was issued specifically to the police department while dealing with a bail petition filed by A. Maruthachalam, 59, a resident of Coimbatore, who was arrested by the police for having reportedly posted a video containing defamatory allegations against a sitting judge of the Madras High Court as well as an advocate.

Subsequently on October 11, 2023, the first Division Bench, comprising Chief Justice Sanjay V. Gangapurwala and Justice D. Bharatha Chakravarthy, had closed a 2020 PIL petition after recording the submission of the police department that it had formed social media cells to take action against defamatory, abusive, filthy, and offensive posts.

Centre’s FCU

Further, referring to a proposal by the Centre to constitute a FCU under the Information Technology Act, 2020, the petitioner said the decision had been put on hold after it was challenged before the Bombay High Court, which had now reserved its verdict.

Also Read | Editorial — Retrograde step: On government fact-checking units

Wondering how the Tamil Nadu government could constitute a FCU, outside the framework of the police department, the petitioner also accused the government of having appointed a DMK (ruling party) supporter, Iyan Karthikeyan, as its Mission Director.

The petitioner urged the court to declare as unconstitutional a Government Order (G.O.) issued by the Tamil Development and Information Department on October 6, 2023, for the constitution of the FCU, and also insisted upon an interim injunction restraining its Mission Director from continuing in his post.

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