The Karnataka government‘s decision to set up a ‘fact-checking’ unit to monitor ‘fake news’ on social media – including reports posted by media organisations – has been red-flagged by the Editors Guild of India. On Sunday the EGI issued a statement referring to its petition challenging amendments to the IT Rules (2023) in the Bombay High Court and warned against a “fact-checking unit… under the executive (with) sole authority to determine what is fake or not, and powers to order content take-down”.
The EGI admitted “there is a problem of misinformation and fake news, especially in the online space” but said efforts to identify and remove such content had to be led by “independent bodies that are not under the sole purview of the government, lest they become tools to clamp down on voices of dissent”.
“Any monitoring framework should follow principles of natural justice, including journalists and media bodies, so that press freedom is not tampered with,” the EGI statement said.
“The Guild urges the Karnataka government to clearly specify the scope of and powers of the proposed fact-checking unit, as well as the governing mechanism under which it will operate,” the EGI added, calling for a “consultation exercise with press organisations” to develop this framework.
EGI notes with concern, some aspects of Karnataka govt’s decision to set up a ‘fact-checking unit’ to monitor ‘fake news’. We urge all govts to ensure such units are independent of executive control and their scope and powers are specified so as to not trample upon press freedom pic.twitter.com/7G9pdOweFQ
— Editors Guild of India (@IndEditorsGuild) August 27, 2023
Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah’s government last week cleared the formation of a ‘fact-checking unit’ that his office declared “essential as (fake news) it is responsible for the weakening of democracy and polarisation in society”.
The state’s IT Minister Priyank Kharge recently said “posts and reports tagged ‘fake’ will be taken down and, if required, the government can also take penal measures”.
According to the amendment to the IT Rules notified by the centre earlier this year, governments can set up ‘fact-checking’ units to flag content it believes is incorrect, malicious or both, and social media platforms hosting such content are required to remove them on receipt of a notice.