The Editors Guild of India on Tuesday urged Union Minister for Electronics and Information Technology, Ashwini Vaishnaw, to expunge the draft amendment to IT Rules 2021.
The response came after the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) proposed a plan to amend IT Rules to give power to the Press Information Bureau (PIB) to "fact-check" whether any news is fake.
The Editors Guild of India wrote to Vaishnaw expressing deep concern over the draft amendment to IT Rules, which proposes giving sweeping censorship power to the PIB to direct online intermediaries to take down content deemed as 'fake'.
"The Editors Guild of India is deeply concerned by this proposed amendment giving such sweeping powers to the Press Information Bureau. At the outset, determination of fake news cannot be in the sole hands of the government and 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 said.
"Further, the words 'in respect of any business of the Central government' seems to give the government a carte blanche to determine what is fake 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 letter added.
It must be noted that the Guild had raised its deep concerns with the IT Rules when they were first introduced on February 25, 2021, claiming that they empower the Union government to block, delete, or modify published news anywhere in the country without any judicial oversight.
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"Various provisions in these rules have the potential to place unreasonable restrictions on digital news media, and consequently the media at large. The Guild has included a copy of the representation dated March 6, 2021 for reference.
"The Guild urges the Ministry to expunge this new amendment, and 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," the Editors Guild said.
Meanwhile, the government said on Tuesday that it will hold consultations with the stakeholders on rules pertaining to fake news and curbing misinformation next month, before implementing them.
On January 19, the government had said that it will hold consultations with the stakeholders on the proposed amendments to IT rules pertaining to curbing misinformation on January 24.