If approved, this could make the government the ultimate arbiter of news.
All intermediaries, including social media platforms, will need to ensure that any news article identified as “fake or false” by the Press Information Bureau’s Fact Check Unit is not allowed on their platform, according to a newly proposed amendment to the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021.
The IT ministry added this change to the due diligence requirements for intermediaries on Tuesday as it extended the deadline for consultation on India’s rules for online gaming. Newslaundry had earlier reported that such an extension would be granted. The amendment is proposed in the same set of rules that earlier enabled a government-led Grievance Appellate Committee to have the final say about the validity of content moderation decisions taken by all intermediaries.
If approved, this could mean that all intermediaries linked to the publisher – including their telecom service provider, cloud service provider, domain registrar, web host, social media platforms where the article may be promoted, content management system, etc. – will have to ensure that such content is taken down. This could make the government the ultimate arbiter of what is news.
However, the PIB’s Fact Check Unit is ostensibly not the best at its job.
Newslaundry had earlier reported on how several PIB fact-checks were denials of media reports critical of the government – especially its Covid strategy.
On June 2, 2020, the PIB’s FCU hemmed and hawed about the presence of Chinese troops on the Indian side of LAC to essentially say that it had not happened. Two months later, a defence ministry document stated that the Chinese side had transgressed into Indian territory in May 2020.
It also fact-checked “fake news” about the Uttar Pradesh Special Task Force directing its personnel and their family members to delete 52 Chinese apps from their mobiles for security reasons. As it turned out, the news was correct and was confirmed to Alt News by STF IG Amitabh Yash. Within 10 days, the central government banned 59 Chinese apps for similar reasons.
The International Fact Checking Network requires fact-checkers to have “a commitment to non-partisanship and fairness” so that they do not “unduly concentrate” on one side.
Alt News co-founder Pratik Sinha alleged that the PIB’s FCU does not have a process. “Every fact-checking organisation has a process. The PIB only says whether something is true or false without providing context.”
However, he added that “there are certain circumstances in which the government might be best placed to debunk misinformation”. This could include information about the government’s schemes or recruitment projects.
But is such an amendment necessary to combat fake news?
“The issue is with what the PIB Fact Check Unit decides to verify. If you look at fact checks by the PIB, they are meant to salvage the government’s image barring few exceptions. They selectively fact check things which are political in nature and are critical of the ruling BJP,” he said. “To suggest that only the PIB Fact Checking unit will decide what is true is false suggests that only misinformation against the government has to be removed. All other misinformation can be allowed online.”
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