Indian Newspaper Society slams Centre over its new 'fact-checking' rules

The INS called the new rules on fact-checking "censorship of the press" and further criticised the Centre for "violating the principle of freedom of expression."
Image used for illustrative purposes only. (Express Illustrations)
Image used for illustrative purposes only. (Express Illustrations)

NEW DELHI: The Indian Newspaper Society (INS) is deeply disturbed by the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Amendment Rules, 2023 (IT Amendment Rules, 2023), issued by the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology on April 6, 2023, it said in a press release.

As per the newly notified rules, the Ministry will enjoy the power to constitute a fact-checking unit, which will have sweeping powers to determine what is "fake or false or misleading", with respect to "any business of the Central Government."

The said fact-checking unit will also have the power to issue instructions to intermediaries, including social media platforms, Internet Service Providers and other service providers, to not host such content and take out the content if it has been published.

Urging the Union government to withdraw its notification, INS said the Centre must "hold widespread and meaningful consultations with the stakeholders like the media organisations and press bodies before coming out with any notification having serious implications on the profession of media, and its credibility."

'Censorship of the Press'

In a statement condemning the government's "fact-checking" rules, the INS stated that "such power is seen to be arbitrary, as it is exercised without hearing the parties, and thus a violation of all principles of natural justice and has the effect of the complainant acting as the Judge." 

"It is also to be noted that the so-called fact-checking unit can be constituted by the Ministry through a simple notification published in the Official Gazette. The notified rules do not specify as to what would be the governing mechanism for such a fact-checking unit, what sort of judicial oversight would be available in the exercise of its powers, whether there would be the right to appeal and so on. All this, we are constrained to say, tantamounts to censorship of the Press, and thus a violation of the principle of freedom of expression," the statement read. 

The INS also criticised the government for failing to hold any meaningful consultation with the stakeholders i.e. the media organisations or practitioners, before notifying this amendment, despite widespread criticism over its draft amendments that it had put out in January 2023.

"It is a matter of regret that no attempt has been made by the Ministry to hold any meaningful consultation with the stakeholders i.e. the media organisations or practitioners, before notifying this amendment. With the result that the new set of rules, notified on April 6, 2023, shows hardly any significant improvement from the draft amendments put out in January 2023," the INS statement read.

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