GoI alone cannot determine news as fake: Editors Guild of India

Journalists near military operation site in Srinagar. [FPK File Photo/ Zainab]

New Delhi: The Editors Guild of India has expressed deep concern over the draft amendment to the Information Technology Rules that empowers the Press Information Bureau to determine the veracity of news reports.

Anything declared fake by the PIB will have to be taken down by online intermediaries including social media platforms.

It has urged the government to expunge the new amendment, which was uploaded on the website of Ministry of Electronics and IT (MEITY) on January 17, 2023.

The Guild has said that that the determination of fake news cannot be in the sole hands of the government as it will result in the censorship of the press.

“Already multiple laws exist to deal with content that is found to be factually incorrect. This new procedure basically serves to make it easier to muzzle the free press, and will give sweeping powers to the PIB, or any “other agency authorised by the Central Government for fact checking”, to force online intermediaries to take down content that the government may find problematic,” the Editors Guild has said.

It has objected to the use of words “in respect of any business of the Central Government” and has said that it seems to give the government a carte blanche to determine what is fake or not with respect to its own work.

“This will stifle legitimate criticism of the government and will have an adverse impact on the ability of the press to hold governments to account, which is a vital role it plays in a democracy,” the Guild has said.

The Guild had earlier also raised its deep concerns with the IT Rules when they were first introduced in March 2021, claiming that they empower the Union government to block, delete, or modify published news anywhere in the country without any judicial oversight.

Various provisions in these rules have the potential to place unreasonable restrictions on digital news media, and consequently media at large, it had said.

The Guild has urged the government to initiate meaningful consultations with press bodies, media organisations, and other stakeholders, on the regulatory framework for digital media, so as to not undermine press freedom.

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