IT Rules on Fact-Checking Tantamount to Censorship of Press: Indian Newspaper Society

The INS said that the government's fact-checking rules, which give a committee the power to take down content that is labelled "fake or false or misleading", calling them arbitrary and a violation of natural justice principles.

New Delhi: The Indian Newspaper Society (INS) said it is “deeply disturbed” by the amendments to the new Information Technology Rules that grant extraordinary powers to a government-appointed committee to take down any “fake or false or misleading”, with respect to “any business of the Central Government”.

The rules, officially called the IT (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Amendment Rules, 2023 (IT Amendment Rules, 2023), were issued by the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology on April 6, 2023.

The fact-checking unit will have the power to issue instructions to intermediaries, including social media platforms, internet service providers and other service providers, to not host content labelled “fake or false or misleading” and remove content if it has been published.

INS, which is a non-profit organisation that represents the Indian press, has called on the Union government to withdraw the notification and hold consultations with media organisations and press bodies before issuing any notification that could impact the media profession and its credibility. In a statement, the INS condemned the government’s fact-checking rules, calling them arbitrary and a violation of natural justice principles. The INS highlighted that such power is exercised without hearing parties, and the complainant acts as the judge, which is a serious concern.

The Editors Guild of India had also criticised the rules, calling them “akin to censorship”.

Moreover, the INS criticised the government for failing to consult with stakeholders such as media organisations and practitioners before notifying the amendment, despite widespread criticism of the draft amendments released in January 2023.

The statement says that the notified rules do not specify what would be the governing mechanism for the fact-checking unit, what sort of judicial oversight would be available in the exercise of its powers and whether there would be the right to appeal. “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 was founded in 1939 and serves as a platform for its members to exchange views and ideas on the industry’s challenges and opportunities. The INS works with various stakeholders, including the government, advertisers, and readers, to ensure that the press remains a vital pillar of democracy and plays a constructive role in society.