Government's Fact-Checking Unit (FCU) Under Legal Scrutiny

Image depicting the headline 'PIB Fact Check Unit Banned; Supreme Court' in relation to the government's Fact-Checking Unit (FCU) facing legal scrutiny.
Government's Fact-Checking Unit (FCU) Under Legal Scrutiny

The Central government of India recently announced the establishment of a fact-checking unit (FCU) under the Press Information Bureau (PIB) of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. This unit aims to monitor content on social media platforms related to the government’s business, following the amended Information Technology Rules. However, the FCU's implementation has faced legal challenges and scrutiny.

Legal Battle and Bombay High Court’s Decision:

In response to the government's notification, comedian Kunal Kamra and others filed a petition in the Bombay High Court seeking a stay on the FCU's setup until the court ruled on the legality of the new rule. Despite their plea, the high court rejected the interim application, stating that allowing the FCU's establishment would not cause any grave and irreparable loss.

Initially, a two-judge bench delivered a split verdict on January 31, 2024. Subsequently, Justice A S Chandurkar was appointed as the third judge to hear the case. He opined that the public interest outweighed the potential loss claimed by the petitioners, allowing the FCU's notification pending the final decision on the challenge to the IT Rules.

Amendments to the IT Rules:

The Union government amended the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, on April 6, 2023. These amendments included provisions for the establishment of an FCU to identify fake, false, or misleading online content related to the government’s business.

FCU’s Functioning:

Under the amended IT Rules, if the FCU identifies such content, it will flag it to social media intermediaries. These intermediaries then have two options: either remove the flagged post or add a disclaimer. However, choosing the latter option removes their legal immunity, making them liable for legal action. This provision has raised concerns among social media platforms and free speech advocates.

Supreme Court's Intervention:

The Supreme Court intervened and stayed the operation of the Centre’s notification regarding the FCU until the Bombay High Court takes a final decision on petitions challenging the 2023 amendments to the Information Technology Rules. The Centre assured the High Court that the FCU would not be notified until the petitions challenging the IT Amendment Rules, 2023, are decided.

Key Points for Exams:

  • The Press Information Bureau (PIB) is the nodal agency of the Government of India for disseminating information to the media on government policies, programs, and initiatives.
  • The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, were initially introduced to regulate social media platforms, digital news media, and over-the-top (OTT) content providers.

This summary provides an overview of the legal issues surrounding the establishment of the FCU and the amendments to the IT Rules, highlighting the complex interplay between government regulation, free speech, and digital media ethics.

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