The Centre on July 21 informed the Bombay High Court that it will not notify till September 4 the Fact Check Unit (FCU) under the recently amended Information Technology (IT) Rules to declare content to be fake on social media against the government.
Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta told a division Bench of Justices Gautam Patel and Neela Gokhale to adjourn the hearing in the matter as he has to appear before the Supreme Court.
He said, “My difficulty is that the constitutional bench of the Supreme Court will commence hearing arguments in matters pertaining to Article 370 [which gave a special status to Jammu and Kashmir] from August 2. I need to make some preparations for that.”
The court has heard arguments by advocates of all the petitioners and was going to hear Mr. Mehta’s arguments on July 27 and 28, however, it posted the hearing on August 31 and September 1. Mr. Mehta has made the statement that the FCU not be notified shall stand extended till September 4.
On April 21, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology had said it will not notify the FCU till July 5. This statement has been extended time and again.
The court was hearing a petition filed by political satirist Kunal Kamra, Editors Guild of India and the Association of Indian Magazines and regional channels. They are all challenging the constitutional validity of the IT (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Amendment Rules, 2023. The new Rules require social media intermediaries to censor or otherwise modify content that relates to the Central government, if a government-mandated FCU directs them to do so.
As per the new Rules, the content marked by the FCU as “fake or misleading” will have to be taken down by online intermediaries if they wish to retain their “safe harbour”. The FCU will flag, “online posts about the ‘business of the central government’ that are false or misleading, also voiced doubts about the assumption of a true/false binary and why the unit’s scope was limited to government business.”