The future of freedom of expression and press freedom in India continues to hang in the balance, as the Bombay High Court delivered a split verdict on the validity of the controversial 2023 fact-checking amendment to the IT (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, that attacks rights online. Access Now looks forward to a rights-centric judgement striking down the amendment in the next phase of the legal challenge.
The amendment, if enforced, would allow the Indian government to label content about its activities as “fake,” “false,” or “misleading,” and demand its removal — ultimately handing authorities control over what people can say about them online. Social media intermediaries — such as Facebook or YouTube — could be held liable if they fail to comply with the directives of the government’s fact-checking body. The 2023 fact-checking amendment contradicts the right to free speech and expression under Indian and international law.
Freedom of speech is already under growing threat in India. The Telecommunications Act, 2023 puts encrypted communications in jeopardy, while the draft Broadcasting Bill is set to impose stifling regulations on all news and current affairs broadcasters. Other parts of the IT Rules, 2021 also undermine free speech and privacy and are subject to multiple legal challenges across India.
As India gears up for its general election, authorities must not compromise people’s rights to free speech, access to information, and assembly in any efforts to curb disinformation or hate speech — online and offline.