The Indian Newspaper Society (INS) has urged the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) to withdraw the IT (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Amendment Rules, 2023, stating that it would result in the government - or its designated agency - enjoying "absolute" and “arbitrary" power to determine what was fake or not in respect of its own work, and order its takedown from internet platforms.
INS also said that the Ministry had promised to hold consultations with media organisations and media bodies, when it was constrained to withdraw the draft amendments, it had put out in January 2023, following widespread criticism from media organisations.
“It is a matter of regret that no attempt has been made by the Ministry to hold any meaningful consultation with the stakeholders i.e. the media organisations or practitioners, before notifying this amendment. With the result that the new set of rules, notified on April 6, 2023 show hardly any significant improvement from the draft amendments put out in January 2023,” INS said in a statement.
Further, the society has also asked the government to hold meaningful consultations with stakeholders such as media organisations and press bodies before coming out with any notification which would have serious implications on the profession.
"As per the newly notified rules, the Ministry will enjoy 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 said fact-checking unit will also have the power to issue instructions to intermediaries, including social media platforms, internet service providers and other service providers, to not host such content and take out the content if it has been published," INS said in a statement.
Furthermore, INS said that this would have the effect of the Government or its distinguished agency enjoying absolute power to determine what is fake or not, in respect to its own work, and order it to be taken down.
"Such power is seen to be arbitrary, as it is exercised without hearing the parties, and thus a violation of all principles of natural justice and has the effect of the complainant acting as the judge," INS added.
“The so-called fact-checking unit can be constituted by the Ministry through a simple notification published in the Official Gazette. The notified rules do not specify as to what would be the governing mechanism for such a fact-checking unit, what sort of judicial oversight would be available in the exercise of its powers, whether there would be the right to appeal and so on,” INS said in a statement.
"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 society stated.