‘Government as judge, jury, executioner’: Editorials slam IT rules amendment on ‘fake’ news

Indian Express and TOI stepped up to the plate.

WrittenBy:NL Team
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Minister of state for electronics and IT Rajeev Chandrasekhar is currently firefighting criticism of his government’s amendment to the IT Rules 2021, by which content flagged as “fake” or “misleading” by a government fact-checking unit will have to be taken down from social media.

Newspapers criticised it, the Editors Guild called it “draconian” and “akin to censorship”, and opposition leaders panned it as a “new way to restrict news critical of the government”.

Two editorials in this morning’s newspapers didn’t hold back either.

The Indian Express editorial, headlined “Government sets itself up as judge, jury and executioner”, said the amendment comes three months after the centre banned the BBC documentary on Modi’s role in the Gujarat riots. The editorial said the government’s underlying motivation seems to be to “arrogate to itself the role of an editor, with unbridled and unchecked powers to decide what can be published and what cannot”.

“But a framework where a unit of the government is endowed with discretion to determine the genuineness of online content is fraught with peril,” Express said, saying this also “short-circuits” procedures laid out in Shreya Singhal v. Union of India and the IT Act. “However, in a climate where laws are increasingly weaponised to curb opposition and dissent, such provisions will be misused.”

The Times of India was nearly as blunt in its editorial, pointing out that Chandrasekhar himself had told TOI the media is already regulated by laws and that the new amendment was for intermediaries, not the media.

“First, keep in mind intermediaries are one of the gateways to accessing work by the media,” the editorial said. “Therefore, any arbitrary restrictions on them may affect public access to news. Second, Thursday’s amendments are not clear on terms such as ‘misleading’.”

After all, it said, even if facts in a report are “beyond reproach”, a government unit might find a report “problematic” and therefore order for it to be taken down as “misleading”. This unit also has a “conflict of interest...plays the role of judge, jury and executioner”.

Back in January, Newslaundry had reported on this amendment and what precisely it entails. Read all about it here.

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