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Supreme Court stays Centre's notification setting fact check unit to identify fake news

The Fact Check Unit was notified on March 20 under Information Technology Rules, 2021, by the Ministry of Electronics and IT.

Edited By: Arushi Jaiswal @JaiswalArushi New Delhi Updated on: March 21, 2024 14:38 IST
Supreme Court, PIB Fact Check
Image Source : FILE PHOTO Supreme Court of India

Fact check unit: The Supreme Court Thursday put on hold the Centre’s notification setting up its fact-checking unit under the Press Information Bureau (PIB) to identify fake news about the Union government. The Fact Check Unit was established on March 20 under the Information Technology Rules, 2021, by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology.

A bench led by Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud set aside the March 11 decision of the Bombay High Court, which had declined to grant an interim stay on establishing the FCU under the amended IT Rules. The FCU's purpose is to identify fake and false content circulating on social media concerning the Union government.

Here's what court said 

"We are of the considered view that questions before the HC deal with core questions on Article 19(1)(a) of the constitution," the bench said.

"We are of the view that notification dated March 20, 2024, after rejection of application of interim relief, needs to be stayed. The challenge to the validity of 3(1)(b)(5) involves serious constitutional question and the impact of the rule on free speech and expression would need to be analysed by the high court," the bench, also comprising Justices J B Pardiwala and Manoj Misra, said.

Centre establishes fact-checking unit

The Central Government announced the establishment of a fact-check unit under the Press Information Bureau (PIB), aimed at monitoring online content related to the government's affairs for accuracy. The unit, mandated under the IT Rules of 2021 by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, is designated as the official fact-checking body for the Central Government.

Rule 3(1)(b)(v) of the IT (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021. The FCU will be the nodal agency to tackle or alert about all fake news or misinformation related to the central government.

“In exercise of the powers conferred by sub-clause (v) of clause (b) of sub-rule (1) of rule 3 of the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, the Central Government hereby notifies the Fact Check Unit under the Press Information Bureau of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting as the fact check unit of the Central Government for the purposes of the said sub-clause, in respect of any business of the Central Government,” the gazette notification said.

The Fact Check Unit, as per the notification, will serve as the central agency responsible for identifying and alerting about instances of fake news or misinformation concerning the central government. It will play a pivotal role in combating the spread of false information across digital platforms.

Bombay High Court on notifying unit

The notification came days after the Bombay High Court declined to restrain the Centre from notifying the unit. The petition was filed by stand-up comedian Kunal Kamra and the Editors Guild of India.

In April of the previous year, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (Meity) introduced the 2023 Rules, amending the Information Technology Rules, 2021. Under these new regulations, the fact-checking unit is empowered to identify and flag any online content deemed fake, false, or misleading concerning government affairs to social media intermediaries.

The online intermediaries would then have to take down such content if they wanted to retain their "safe harbour" (legal immunity against third-party content).

(With PTI inputs)

Also Read: Centre establishes fact-checking unit to debunk government related matters on social media

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