Image used for illustrative purposes only. (Express Illustrations)
Image used for illustrative purposes only. (Express Illustrations)

Only parliamentary enactments can create govt fact-check unit: Experts

CPM Rajya Sabha MP John Brittas, a member of the Standing Committee on Information Technology (IT), said the amendments haven’t been discussed in the committee.

NEW DELHI: The Centre’s proposal for a government fact-checking body to ‘identify fake content online’  – under the IT Rules Amendment – can only be set up through Parliamentary enactments, said cyber law experts and media watchdogs.

According to the new amendment, social media platforms, websites and other intermediaries will have to take down any information marked as “fake or misleading” by the body. Calling the changes introduced by the amendments as “alarming”, Gayatri Malhotra of Internet Freedom Foundation (IIF), a leading advocacy group, told this paper that the role of the fact-checking body is quasi-judicial in nature and it cannot be set up through delegated legislation.

“A fact-check body can only be established through Parliamentary enactment and cannot be set up through delegated legislation,” said Malhotra, adding that a fact-check serves as a de-facto takedown order minus the processes associated with one, which already lacks adequate transparency.

“The ambiguity of terms such as ‘fake’, ‘false’ or ‘misleading’, coupled with the conflict of interest with having a designated unit appointed by the executive, deciding what about the Union government is true or false, makes these amendments highly likely to be misused,” she said.

Editors Guild, Indian Newspaper Society and several others have urged the IT ministry to withdraw the notification on the fact-checking body while pointing out that the amendments will have “adverse implications” for press freedom. It was also pointed out that there was no consultation after the government withdrew the draft amendments it had put out in January 2023, which had given sweeping powers to the Press Information Bureau.

CPM Rajya Sabha MP John Brittas, a member of the Standing Committee on Information Technology (IT), said the amendments haven’t been discussed in the committee.“The changes have been unilaterally decided without discussion in the committee or with any stakeholders. There should be a process. It can’t be an arbitrary action by an officer or the government,” he said.

“Media should be fact-checking the government. Now, it’s ironic that the government gets absolute power to determine what is fake or not,” said Brittas.

While the government hasn’t mentioned any governing mechanism or judicial oversight for such a fact-checking unit, Malhotra said, “The amendment will cause intermediaries to prioritise taking down any content flagged by the fact-checking unit rather than risking the loss of their safe harbour protections.

Related Stories

No stories found.

X
The New Indian Express
www.newindianexpress.com