SC stays Centre's notification of PIB's Fact-Check Unit

Supreme Court
Supreme Court of India. File Photo: AFP

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday stayed the Centre's notification on setting up a fact-checking unit under the Press Information Bureau (PIB) to identify fake news about the Union government.

The Fact-Check Unit was notified on March 20 under Information Technology Rules, 2021, by the Ministry of Electronics and IT.

A bench headed by Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud set aside the March 11 order of the Bombay High Court which had refused to grant interim stay on setting up the FCU under the amended IT Rules to identify fake and false content on social media about the Union government.

"We are of the considered view that questions before the HC deal with core questions on Article 19(1)(a) of the constitution," the bench said. "We are of the view that notification dated March 20, 2024, after the rejection of the application of interim relief, needs to be stayed. The challenge to the validity of 3(1)(b)(5) involves serious constitutional questions and the impact of the rule on free speech and expression would need to be analysed by the high court," the bench, also comprising Justices J B Pardiwala and Manoj Misra, said.

Rule 3(1)(b)(v) of the IT (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021. The FCU will be the nodal agency to tackle or alert about all fake news or misinformation related to the central government.

The notification came days after the Bombay High Court declined to restrain the Centre from notifying the unit. The petition was filed by stand-up comedian Kunal Kamra and the Editors Guild of India.

In April last year, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (Meity) promulgated the 2023 Rules, which further amended the Information Technology Rules, 2021.

Under the new rules, if the fact-check unit comes across or is informed about any posts that are "fake", "false" or contain "misleading" facts pertaining to the business of the government, it would flag it to the social media intermediaries.

The online intermediaries would then have to take down such content if they wanted to retain their "safe harbour" (legal immunity against third-party content).

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