India: Withdraw New IT Rule: IJU22 Jan, 2023
The Indian Journalists Union (IJU) has expressed profound concern over government’s draft amendment to IT Rules 2021, which asks social media companies to take down articles which the Press Information Bureau, under Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, deems as ‘fake’ or ‘false’. The Union said the amendment would impact freedom of speech and expression and amount to censoring online content and must be withdrawn immediately.
On Tuesday, the Ministry of Electronics and IT put on its website a modification to the draft IT (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 which gives PIB the power to declare any information (most typically news information) as ‘fake’ or ‘false’ and at which point intermediaries, including social media intermediaries (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) will be required to “make reasonable efforts to cause the user […] not to host, display, […], publish, transmit […] or share” such information or news. Effectively, it would act as a takedown order by the PIB, or any other Union Government agency to which the relevant news story relates.
In a statement, IJU President and former Member Press Council of India Geetartha Pathak and Secretary General and Vice President of International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) Sabina Inderjit said the amendment in effects shall make the Central Government the final arbiter of what news should be published and must be taken down. Worse, it gives the PIB powers to take down news, which is damaging to the government image, though factually correct! This is arbitrary and the Ministry should have consulted stakeholders before putting it on the website.
The IJU pointed out that in the recent past, even special Rapporteurs of the United Nations have criticized the new IT Rules saying these were incompatible with “international law and standards related to the right to privacy and to freedom of opinion and expression.” The new rule would be used as a tool to muzzle online information as in the past the PIB has described news items as fake, though it amounts to only a denial. For any democratic society, it is vital to have an independent media, which can hold the government of the day to account with constructive criticism. The government must demonstrate its commitment to press freedom, the IJU said.