News Brief

'Right To Not Be Misled As Important As Freedom Of Speech': Centre Defends Establishing Fact-Check Unit In Bombay HC

Swarajya Staff

Jul 03, 2024, 03:34 PM | Updated 03:34 PM IST

Bombay High Court. (Source: Twitter)
Bombay High Court. (Source: Twitter)

Justice A S Chandurkar of the Bombay High Court has been hearing arguments from the central government in response to the petitions filed by comedian Kunal Kamra and others.

Kamra and his co-petitioners have challenged Rule 3(1)(b)(v) of the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021.

This rule authorises the government to establish a fact-check unit (FCU) to identify fake, false, and misleading information about its business on social media.

Defending the FCU, Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta argued that preventing the spread of false information is crucial as per a report by The Hindu.

He contended that the right to know and the right not to be misled are as important as the right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a).

Earlier in April, the petitioners concluded their arguments, asserting that the FCU's purpose is to impose state censorship on any information the government wishes to suppress, preventing public discussion, debate, or questioning.

Mehta meanwhile noted that many state governments, including Kerala and Uttarakhand, have FCUs, and even private firms, including news organisations, have similar units to flag false information. He also emphasised that the Union government has a duty to fact-check to prevent misinformation.

He provided an example of fake news on social media claiming that the Election Commission would deduct Rs 350 from the accounts of people who chose not to vote, highlighting the serious consequences of such misinformation.

Mehta argued that the petitioners' concerns about a chilling effect are unfounded, as intermediaries have not taken down numerous false pieces of information despite requests from the government.

Mehta also referenced the misinformation and fake news that spread on social media in the US during the pandemic, stressing the importance of a systematic approach like the FCU to handle such issues.

He clarified that the government is not the final arbiter; the intermediary and, ultimately, a competent court hold that role. He further argued that the right to be correctly informed is inherent under Article 21, as misinformation that incites violence or threatens public order infringes on this right.

The Union government will continue its arguments on 24 and 25 July, while the petitioners' rejoinder is scheduled for 29, 30, and 31 July.

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