News Broadcasters & Digital Association (NBDA) wants the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology to withdraw the proposed amendment of the Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code by the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology.
As per the proposed amendment issued on April 6, 2023, the government will get the power to fact-check any fake, false or misleading information about the central government. The amendment will also give power to the government to ask social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook to take down the content.
NBDA has expressed its “deep anguish” and said that the amendment would suppress any legitimate criticism or analysis of the government, its policies and its actions. It said this will have a ‘chilling effect’ on the freedom of speech and expression granted to the Media under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.
NBDA statement read that despite the concerns expressed by various media organizations including the NBDA, the said Amendment has been issued by the Ministry without proper consultation.
The Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology (Ministry) issued the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Amendment Rules, 2023, thereby amending Rule 3(1)(b)(v) to state “or, in respect of any business of the Central Government, is identified as fake or false or misleading by such fact check unit of the Central Government as the Ministry may, by notification published in the Official Gazette, specify” (said Amendment).
NBDA said, “It is of serious concern that by virtue of the said Amendment, the Ministry has given itself the power to designate a fact check unit which would act as an ‘adjudicator of truth’ and will have an unbridled and unfettered right to determine what is ‘fake’, ‘false’ or ‘misleading’.”
As per NBDA, the said amendment also directly affects the news media as the ‘intermediaries’ may be coerced by the ‘fact check unit’ designated by the Ministry to take down alleged ‘fake’, ‘false’ or ‘misleading’ news content without following the principles of natural justice.
“This would also result in preventing any comment or criticism of the Government. Such excessive powers to regulate content will be conferred on the fact check unit established by the Ministry without any checks and balances and therefore its conclusions will not be neutral or independent,” read the NBDA statement.
NBDA added that the said Amendment appears to be a direct attempt by the government to regulate free speech. “It will result in the intermediaries, a social media intermediary, a significant social media intermediary censoring content/information at the behest of the Government on vague and ambiguous grounds which grounds are not envisaged by the reasonable restrictions as enumerated by Article 19(2) of the Constitution.”