New Delhi: The controversial ‘fact-checking unit’ introduced in the amended information technology Rules is likely to have two officials from the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology and a third independent expert, Economic Times has reported.
With the new Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Amendment Rules, 2023, introduced in early April, the Narendra Modi government has given itself 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 unit can also issue instructions to ‘intermediaries’ (including social media sites), to not host such content.
Journalists’ bodies, rights activists and those keeping a watch on internet freedom have all decried this as a move approaching censorship.
An earlier version of this rule had empowered the Press Information Bureau as the fact-checker. This, too, had garnered criticism, perhaps leading the government to change the rules slightly.
In mid-April, Indian Express had reported that the ‘fact-checking unit’ will have two government representatives and two government-appointed experts.
ET quoted top officials in its report as saying that the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology-led unit will “verify only news and fact-based information and will not be empowered to screen or assess opinions presented by publications.”
This claim was also made by the Union government in April, when it told the Bombay high court – which was listening to comedian Kunal Kamra’s challenge to the amended Rules – that its fact-check unit is only aimed at the removal of false and misleading information related to government policies and programmes, and would not take down any opinion, satire or artist impression from the internet.
The team will also, reportedly, be required to publicly specify reasoning behind take-down orders.
India has slipped to the 161st rank in terms of press freedom out of 180 countries ranked by Reporters Without Borders – 11 ranks worse than 2022, when it stood at 150.