Fact-Checking Unit

The Central government of India notified the setting up of a fact-checking unit (FCU) under the Press Information Bureau (PIB) of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. The FCU has been established to monitor content on social media platforms related to the government’s business, as per the recently amended Information Technology Rules.

Legal Battle and Bombay High Court’s Decision:

The notification comes in the wake of a legal battle in the Bombay High Court, where comedian Kunal Kamra and other petitioners sought a stay on the setting up of the FCU until the court ruled on the legality of the new rule. However, the high court rejected the interim plea, stating that no grave and irreparable loss would be caused by allowing the establishment of the FCU under the IT Rules.

The case was initially heard by a two-judge bench, which delivered a split verdict on January 31, 2024. Consequently, Justice A S Chandurkar was assigned as the third judge to hear the case. In his decision, Justice Chandurkar opined that the larger public interest outweighed the potential loss claimed by the petitioners, and thus, the FCU could be notified pending the final decision on the challenge to the IT Rules.

Amendments to the IT Rules:

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

FCU’s Functioning:

Under the amended IT Rules, if the FCU identifies or is informed about any posts that are fake, false, or contain misleading facts about the government’s business, it will flag the content to social media intermediaries. The intermediaries then have two options: either take down the flagged post or put a disclaimer on it.

However, if the intermediary chooses to put a disclaimer on the flagged content, they lose their safe harbour/immunity and become liable for legal action. This provision has raised concerns among social media platforms and free speech advocates, who fear that intermediaries may preemptively take down any content flagged by the FCU to avoid potential legal consequences.

Supreme Court Stays the Operation

The Supreme Court stayed the operation of the Centre’s  notification regarding the Press Information Bureau’s Fact Checking Unit (FCU) until the Bombay High Court takes a final decision on petitions challenging the 2023 amendments to the Information Technology Rules.

A three-judge bench presided by Chief Justice of India D Y Chandrachud noted that the Centre had assured the High Court that the FCU will not be notified till the petitions challenging the Rule of the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Amendment Rules 2023 (IT Amendment Rules, 2023) are decided by the High Court.

Important facts 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.

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