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INS urges govt to withdraw IT Amendment Rules 2023

Indian Newspaper Society (INS) on Wednesday said in a statement that it is deeply disturbed by the newly notified Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Amendment Rules, 2023 (IT Amendment Rules, 2023) issued by the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology on April 6. It has urged the government to withdraw the notification and hold consultations with stakeholders such as media organisations and press bodies before releasing with any notification having serious implications on media and its credibility.

It said in the statement, “The Indian Newspaper Society is constrained to state that the new rules would have the effect of the Government or its designated agency enjoying absolute power to determine what is fake or not, in respect of its own work, and order it to be taken down. Such power is seen to be arbitrary, as it is exercised without hearing the parties, and thus a violation of all principles of natural justice and has the effect of the complainant acting as the Judge.”

According to the newly notified IT amendment rules, the Ministry will enjoy the power to constitute a fact-checking unit, which will have sweeping powers to determine what is “fake or false or misleading”, with respect to “any business of the Central Government”. The said fact-checking unit will also have the power to issue instructions to intermediaries, including social media platforms, Internet Service Providers, and other service providers, to not host such content and take out the content if it has been published.

INS highlighted in the statement that the fact-checking unit can be constituted by the Ministry through a simple notification published in the Official Gazette and added that the notified rules do not specify what would be the governing mechanism for such a fact-checking unit and what sort of judicial oversight would be available in the exercise of its powers, whether there would be the right to appeal and so on.

“All this, we are constrained to say, tantamount to censorship of the Press, and thus a violation of the principle of freedom of expression,” INS said.

The organisation further said, “The Ministry had promised to hold consultations with media organisations and media bodies, when it was constrained to withdraw the draft amendments it had put out in January 2023, following widespread criticism from media organisations. It is a matter of regret that no attempt has been made by the Ministry to hold any meaningful consultation with the stakeholders i.e. the media organisations or practitioners, before notifying this amendment. The new set of rules, notified on April 6 shows hardly any significant improvement from the draft amendments put out in January 2023.” Business Standard

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