Supreme Court Pauses Central Govt’s Fact Check Unit Notification

New Delhi: In a setback to the Union government, the Supreme Court on Thursday paused the Centre’s notification of the Fact Check Unit under the Press Information Bureau.

Just a day earlier, the government had notified the Fact Check Unit to “address the challenge of fake news.”

Without commenting on the merits of the case, a bench of Chief Justice of India (CJI) D Y Chandrachud, Justice JB Pardiwala and Justice Manoj Misra said the matter concerns freedom of expression.

Stand-up comedian Kunal Kamra and Editors Guild of India had earlier approached Bombay High Court, seeking a direction to restrain the Union government from notifying the Fact Check Unit.

Bombay High Court, however, refused to grant an interim stay on setting up the Fact-Check Unit, saying that no grave and irreparable loss would be caused.

A Fact Check Unit provision was part of amendments to the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, introduced last year.

As per new rules, if the Fact Check Unit comes across or is informed about any post that is fake, false and contains misleading facts about the business of the government, it would flag them to social media intermediaries, which will have the option of taking that post down or put a disclaimer. In case of a disclaimer, the intermediary will risk legal action.

Voicing concerns about censorship, the petitioners had stated that the new rules would restrict users from expressing themselves freely on social media. They were also of the opinion that social media intermediaries would promptly remove posts flagged by the Fact Check Unit to avoid legal troubles.

Kamra further challenged the new IT rules arguing that those violate his right to work as a political satirist because it will allow the government to flag any content critical of its policies.

The government’s response was that rules were issued in public interest to crack down on fake news, and the fact check will be based on evidence. Further, such decisions can be challenged in courts, said the Centre.

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