On the eve of World Press Freedom Day, Access Now joins 16 other civil society organisations in urging the Indian government to withdraw a new “fake news” amendment to the Information Technology Rules (IT Rules) that could censor journalism and severely jeopardise freedom of expression.
The new rule requires intermediaries, including social media platforms and internet service providers, to take down any content “in respect of any business of the Central Government” that is deemed “fake or false or misleading” by any “fact check unit of the central government.”
“India’s new IT Rules amendment effectively empowers the government to be the judge and the jury on online content pertaining to itself,” said Namrata Maheshwari, Asia Pacific Policy Counsel at Access Now. “‘Fake, false and misleading’ are subjective terms with no legal definition. They can be used to arbitrarily demand removal of online content such as editorials, investigative journalism, satire, and more. These powers violate the fundamental right to free expression protected by the Indian Constitution, and will disproportionately impact freedom of the press.”
This recent amendment to the widely criticised IT Rules of 2021 came into effect on April 6, 2023. It amplifies existing concerns regarding the rules conferring unchecked censorship powers on the government, to the detriment of human rights.
“The IT Rules have been an attack on individual and press freedom since their inception,” said Raman Jit Singh Chima, Asia Pacific Policy Director at Access Now. “Instead of implementing repeated recommendations for greater accountability and independent judicial oversight, the government is continuing to use the IT Rules to expand its own powers and undermine human rights in the digital age. As a result, freedom of the press — the fourth pillar of our democracy — continues to suffer.”
The signatories to the joint statement urge the Indian government to:
- Withdraw the recent amendment and overbroad provisions in the IT Rules enabling unchecked censorship;
- Meaningfully commit to protecting media freedoms and ensure that journalists are able to do their work freely and without the fear of persecution; and
- Ensure that online content governance frameworks are developed in consultation with civil society and journalists, while prioritising the fundamental right to freedom of expression.