There has been some clarity regarding the Fact Check Unit that was proposed in the Information Technology (IT) Rules, 2021. According to reports, the unit could have up to four members with a representative from the IT Ministry and another from the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation. The unit could also consist of a media expert and a legal expert, but there is no official confirmation whether a working or a retired journalist could figure in it.
Last week, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) notified amendments to the Information Technology Rules, 2021. It created a regulatory regime to allow a fact check body – which it will appoint – with powers to label any content related to the government on online platforms as “fake” or “misleading”. Such content must be taken down by online intermediaries if they wish to retain their ‘safe harbour,’ which is legal immunity they enjoy against third-party content.
The rules have attracted criticism from the Congress and several other Opposition parties, and the digital rights activists and the Editors Guild of India, which described the rules as draconian. Comedian Kunal Kamra has moved the Bombay High Court questioning its constitutional validity. The hearing in the case is scheduled on April 21.
A senior government said that the government was “close to finalising the contours of the Fact Check Unit and its interplay with social media sites like Meta, YouTube and Twitter”. The unit will uphold the highest levels of professional and ethical standards to ensure trustworthiness and neutrality in the identification of potentially misleading or fake content, the official said.
The MeitY is also learnt to have finalised the broad-level processes that the FCU will follow, including granting it suo motu powers to identify potentially misleading content, corroborating evidence across various ministries and departments, and communicating its conclusion to social media platforms.
The FCU is also expected to have a designated website of its own where it will publish the links to pieces of content that it has identified as fake or misleading.
The final notification on the unit is expected to clarify that understanding and allow aggrieved parties to seek recourse at one of three government-appointed appeal committees that the Centre had set up earlier this year.
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