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Supreme Court Stays PIB’s Fact-Checking Unit, Notified Under Amended IT Laws

Supreme Court Stays PIB’s Fact-Checking Unit; Calls for Independent Oversight
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On Thursday, March 21, the Supreme court stayed the operation of a fact-checking unit under the Press Information Bureau that holds the power to flag any information about the union government that is termed as ‘misleading or fake news’.

Under the new amendment, which was notified on March 20, by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, if the FCU comes across or is informed about any posts that are fake, false and contain misleading information about the business of the government and once the such post is flagged off, they have the option of either taking down the post or putting a disclaimer of the same.

In addition, the legal requirements for online intermediaries (including social media platforms like WhatsApp and X) under Rule 3(1)(b)(v) of the existing IT Rules, 2021 were amended by notifying the IT Amendment Rules, 2023.

On March 11, the Bombay High Court had rejected applications seeking an interim stay on notifying the FCU until the court decided on multiple petitions challenging the validity of the amended rules.

The amendment of FCU was opposed by Kunal Kamra, a stand-up comedian, Editors Guild Of India and Association of Indian Magazine. According to them, the new amendments challenge press freedom and freedom of speech and expression protected by Article 19(i)(a) of the constitution.

However, solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the centre said the fact- checking would be restricted to government business. ” If someone criticises the prime minister, it would not fall under this” he said.

The Fact check Unit was notified on Wednesday, March 20, under Information Technology Rules, 2021 by the Ministry of Electronic and Information Technology to impose a legal obligation on online platforms such as Facebook, Twitter or any social platforms to take down any content that is considered as ‘Fake’.

The petitioners including Kunal Kamra, Editors Guild of India , News Broadcasters and Digital Association of Indian Magazines have challenged the ruling calling them arbitrary, unconstitutional and in violation of fundamental rights.

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