The News Broadcasters & Digital Association (NBDA) on Monday, January 23, 2023, strongly opposed the Draft Amendments to the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 (IT Rules, 2021) and expressed serious concerns that it stifles the freedom of speech and expression of the Media guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.
This statement from the association came after the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology (MEITY) last week on January 17, 2023, issued revised Draft Amendments to the IT Rules, 2021 seeking to amend Rule 3(1)(b)(v) to state “or is identified as fake or false by the fact check unit at the Press Information Bureau of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting or other agency authorized by the Central Government for fact-checking or, in respect of any business of the Central Government, by its department in which such business is transacted under the rules of business made under clause (3) of article 77 of the Constitution”.
NBDA warned that this draft amendment is giving the Press Information Bureau (PIB) and the Central Government excessive powers to regulate digital news content without any scrutiny.
“It is of serious concern that PIB has been given powers along with any “other agency authorized by the Central Government” to direct the intermediaries/social media platforms to remove ‘fake news’,” noted the association.
NBDA is also deeply anxious about the words “in respect of any business of the Central Government, by its department in which such business is transacted under the rules of business made under clause (3) of article 77 of the Constitution”, which will result in suppression of any legitimate criticism or analysis of the Government and its policies by the news media.
The draft amendments also open the possibility for news organizations to get coerced or directed by PIB or any other agency to take down any alleged ‘fake news’ content without following the principles of natural justice. This has the potential of being misused to prevent any comment or criticism of the Government.
Our country believes in a system of checks and balances, giving such wide powers to the government for interfering with the free speech rights of the media without any oversight is against the well-being of a free and democratic society. The Association has requested the MEITY to withdraw the aforesaid amendment.