Pleas against amended IT Rules on fake news pertaining to govt: Bombay HC likely to pronounce verdict on Dec 1

The Bombay High Court on Friday closed for orders a bunch of petitions challenging the recently amended Information Technology (IT) Rules against fake news pertaining to the government on social media.

A division bench of Justices Gautam Patel and Neela Gokhale said it would try to deliver its verdict on the pleas on December 1.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told the bench that until judgment in the case was delivered, the Union government would not notify the Fact Checking Unit (FCU) to be set up under the Rules to identify and flag off fake, false and misleading facts on social media.

Under the Rules, if the FCU comes across or is informed about posts that are fake, false and misleading facts pertaining to the business of the government then it would flag off the same to the social media intermediaries.

Once such a post is flagged off, the intermediary has the option of either taking down the post or putting a disclaimer on the same. In taking the second option, the intermediary loses its safe harbour/ immunity and stands liable for legal action.

A bunch of petitions were filed in the High Court earlier this year challenging the Rules.

Stand-up comedian Kunal Kamra, the Editors Guild of India and the Association of Indian Magazines have filed petitions in the HC against the Rules, terming them arbitrary and unconstitutional and claiming they would have a chilling effect on the fundamental rights of citizens.

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The pleas said the government was trying to be the sole arbiter and would through these Rules try to curtail citizens’ freedom of speech and the right to expression.

The three petitions sought the court to declare the amended Rules unconstitutional and direct the government to restrain from acting against any individual under the Rules.

The Centre, however, said it was not against any kind of opinion, criticism, satire or humour, adding the Rules were to only proscribe or prohibit peddling of fake, false and misleading facts on social media.

On April 6 this year, the Union government promulgated certain amendments to the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, including a provision for a fact-checking unit to flag fake, false or misleading online content related to the government.

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