Saturday, April 20, 2024

Union govt notifies PIB’s fact check unit under IT rules

The fact check unit under the Press Information Bureau has been notified as the fact check unit for the Union Government, according to an official notification issued by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology on March 20.

“The central government hereby notifies the Fact Check Unit under the Press Information Bureau of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting as the fact check unit of the Central Government for the purposes of the said sub-clause, in respect of any business of the Central Government,” the notification read.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court will hear tomorrow a batch of petitions challenging the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Amendment Rules 2023 (IT Amendment Rules 2023), which enable the Union Government to create a Fact Check Unit(FCU).

Earlier, the amendments to IT Rules 2021 were challenged by the Editors’ Guild of India and journalists, alleging that amendments “will have deeply adverse implications for press freedom in the country.”

As per the amendment, social media intermediaries should take down any information related to the Union Government’s business, which the FCU has notified to be false, failing which the intermediaries will be exposed to legal liabilities.

Challenging these rules, stand-up comedian Kunal Kamra, Editors Guild of India approached the Bombay High Court. A division bench of the High Court delivered a split verdict, with Justice GS Patel striking down the amendment and Justice Neela Gokhale upholding the same. The third judge to whom the matter was referred to, Justice Chandurkar, refused to stay the amendment, Live Law reported.

During the pendency of the petition before the High Court, the Union Government had agreed to not notify the FCU. However, last week, with the third judge refusing to stay the amendment, the High Court allowed the Union to proceed with the notification of the FCU.

Kunal Kamra, in his petition, stated: “By threatening intermediaries with the loss of their statutory safe harbour should they fail to take down content that the Central Government’s FCU identifies as fake, false or misleading, the Impugned Rule coerces intermediaries to execute a regime of self- interested censorship of online content relating to the business of the Central Government. Intermediaries – as profit making, commercial enterprises – would naturally choose to avoid civil or criminal liability for third-party content, and would invariably remove it.”

A bench comprising Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud, Justice JB Pardiwala and Justice Manoj Misra will hear the petitions of Kunal Kamra and Editors Guild of India tomorrow.

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