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Amendment to IT Rules Will Censor Free Press, Give Sweeping Power to Govt Agencies: Editors Guild

The Editor’s Guild said that the determination of fake news cannot be in the sole hands of the government and will result in the censorship of the press.
Journalist bodies

Delhi: Expressing concern over the freedom of the press, the Editors Guild of India has urged the government to expunge the draft amendment to the Information Technology Rules, which directs social media companies to take down news articles deemed “fake” by the Press Information Bureau (PIB).

“The Guild urges the Ministry to expunge this new amendment, and to initiate meaningful consultations with press bodies, media
organisations and other stakeholders, on the regulatory framework for digital media, so as to not undermine press freedom,” a statement issued by the Editors Guild of India said on Wednesday.

“At the outset, determination of fake news cannot be in the sole hands of the government and will result in the censorship of the press,” the Guild said in a statement.

Pointing out that multiple laws are already there to deal with content found to be factually incorrect, the Guild said, “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.”

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) on Tuesday released a modification to the draft Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, which was earlier released for public consultation.

The amendment was made in the “due diligence section” for social media intermediaries. It states that an intermediary shall not be allowed to publish information that “deceives or misleads the addressee about the origin of the message or knowingly and intentionally communicates any misinformation” that has been identified as fake or false by the PIB’s fact check unit or any such agency authorised by the Centre.

“Further, the words’ in respect of any business of the Central government’ seems to give the government a carte blanche to determine what is 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,” the Guild said.

The statement noted that the Guild had raised its concerns with the IT Rules when they were first introduced in March 2021. The Guild said that the rules empower the Union government to block, delete, or modify published news without judicial oversight. “Various provisions in these rules have the potential to place unreasonable restrictions on digital news media, and consequently media at large,” it said.

(With PTI inputs)

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