An Open Letter to Members of Parliament Hyderabad/Chandigarh, 31 January 2023: Indian Journalists Union (IJU)
Hyderabad/Chandigarh, 31 January 2023: Indian Journalists Union (IJU) is of the firm opinion that amending the IT rules to authorise Press Information Bureau (PIB) or any other official agency to scrutinize “fake news and remove them from the online social media platforms, would amount to censorship akin to what was imposed during the Emergency days of 1975-77.
We admit that online platforms carry lot of information that can be called fake, false and misleading, uploaded deliberately with ulterior motives and also inadvertently. We also agree that there is a felt need for regulation of online content. But, this situation can’t be taken advantage of to impose government censorship on online platforms which provide the required space for free flow of information.
IJU will fight any such attempt of censorship which goes against the basic principles of democracy. We appeal that upholding democratic norms and freedom of expression the government should establish an independent agency on the lines of Press Council of India to check misinformation and disinformation on online platforms.
The draft amendment issued by the Ministry of Electronics and IT (MeitY) to the IT rules providing for the removal of posts online which are deemed to be fake puts the government in the role of an editor. And the editor will have unfettered authority to scuttle free flow of information, which is clearly against the Constitution that ensures freedom of expression under Article 19(2).
It must be recalled that the Supreme Court had already struck down 66A of the IT Act in 2015 as unconstitutional finding that it posed a restriction to the freedom of expression. The Court verdict clarified that “errors of fact are not grounds for reasonable restrictions”. The PIB has already been flagging “fake news” online but its exercise was found faulty on a number of times since ‘fake news’ as determined by it later turned out to be ‘mistaken labeling’.
If the MeitY draft becomes law such ‘mistaken labeling” would become irreversible and there would be no room for appeal against the PIB-type judgments. Hence this whole setup can be termed as wholly unconstitutional. IJU appeals to all law makers in the country to lend their voice to the efforts to safeguard the most important fundamental right enshrined in the Constitution, the right to freedom of expression by calling for withdrawal of MeitY draft and establishment of an independent authority for regulation of online content.
- Sreenivas Reddy Balwinder Singh Jammu