Sixteen organisations, including Amnesty International, Access Now and Human Rights Watch, on Tuesday, issued a joint statement opposing the latest amendments to the Information Technology (IT) Rules of 2022, under which the government proposes to establish a fact-checking unit for government news, Economic Times reported.
The new IT Rules will censor journalism and severely jeopardise freedom of expression, the groups said in a statement.
“India’s new IT Rules amendment effectively empowers the government to be the judge and the jury on online content pertaining to itself. Fake, false and misleading are subjective terms with no legal definition. They can be used to arbitrarily demand removal of online content such as editorials, investigative journalism, satire, and more,” Namrata Maheshwari, Asia Pacific Policy Counsel at Access Now, said in the statement.
On April 6, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) notified an amendment to the IT Rules, under which it proposed setting up a state-appointed body to fact-check all government-related content online deemed as misinformation or disinformation.
The 16 groups claimed in their letter that the proposal would “grant the government arbitrary, overbroad, and unchecked censorship powers that threaten the rights to freedom of expression and opinion enshrined in the Indian Constitution and under international human rights law”.
“The rules severely threaten press freedoms and the ability of journalists, writers, activists, civil society organisations, human rights defenders, artists, politicians, and others, to speak freely online,” the letter added.
According to the proposal, the government fact-checking body will be in charge only of information pertaining to central government schemes and will send pertinent notices informing intermediaries of content that has been deemed misinformation or disinformation by it.
It would be up to the intermediaries to refuse to remove the content in question if they disagree with the decisions made by the state-run fact-check unit. However, they would lose the protections granted to them under Section 79 of the Information Technology (IT) Act, which shields internet intermediaries from content posted by users and other third parties.