A step too far – ‘Fake news’ rules will damage press freedom

Source: The post is based on the following articles

“Draft amendments to IT rules: A looming censor” published in the Indian Express on 23rd January 2023.

“A step too far – ‘Fake news’ rules will damage press freedom” published in the Business Standard on 23rd January 2023.

Syllabus: GS 3 – Role of media and social networking sites in internal security challenges.

Relevance: About the process of curbing free speech.

News: The Ministry of Electronics and IT (MeitY) recently announced the draft amendments to Information Technology rules.

About the draft IT rules
Read here: The amendments to the IT Rules, 2021
What are the impacts of the draft IT rules?
Read more: New IT rules likely to impact ease of business in India, says report
How the draft rules will impact free speech?

-If passed, the rules will allow the government to order digital intermediaries to take down posts it deems fake, without any forum for appeal or redressal. The proposed rules in effect grant the government blanket powers of censorship.

-The rules allow Press Information Bureau (PIB) to remove the posts from online platforms. The PIB is a government agency, and it is not the government’s role to play editor.

-Supreme Court’s verdict in Shreya Singhal v Union of India (2015) said that take-down orders can only be issued on the grounds laid out in Article 19(2) of the Constitution. . The proposed amendments to IT rules threaten to bring back that draconian spirit into digital governance.

-The PIB’s record in “flagging” misinformation has been far from perfect. When the government is merely flagging and labelling content, such a mistake is reversible. If it issues takedown orders under a legal architecture that provides no room for appeal and become constitutionally untenable.

Overall, the determination of fake news cannot be placed in the sole hands of the government.

What should be done to curb free speech?

All over the world, the task of curbing free speech is best performed by a free and inquiring press. India should follow a similar approach.

India as a democracy is built on the notion that voters have the ability to make judgements about how effectively the government is performing. People can reduce free speech if they are provided with access to free and fair information.

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