The ministry’s parliamentary response also included a summary of steps taken by the Election Commission to restrain fake news during elections.
The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting in response to a parliamentary question said that punitive action has been initiated against fake news in six cases between 2020 and 2021 by the Press Council of India. The answer was given in response to questions concerning fake news on social media posed by three Lok Sabha MPs— Dulal Chand Goswani from Janata Dal (United), Mitesh Patel and Shardaben Patel from the BJP.
Why it matters? The circulation of fake news has grown tremendously and has been aided by the rise of social media which has become the primary source of news, especially in the midst of the pandemic. In a government advisory issued to social media companies in May this year, the Ministry for Electronics and Information Technology said that “there is a trend of circulation of misinformation, false/misleading news and sharing anonymous data related to Coronavirus in various social media platforms creating panic among the public.” Fake news is also fuelling vaccine hesitancy in the country as people refuse the inoculation for fear of impotence and death.
Details of action taken against fake news
The ministry revealed details about the efforts to curb fake news by government bodies. They are as follows:
- The Minister for Information and Broadcasting Anurag Thakur informed the lower house that action had been taken against 12 TV channels “for telecasting false, defamatory programmes etc., in violation of Rule 6(1)(d) of the Programme Code during the years 2018-2021.”
- He informed the Parliament that a Fact Check Unit had been set up under the Press Information Bureau of this Ministry in November 2019. This unit takes cognisance of fake news, both suo moto and by way of queries sent by citizens on its portal, via email and WhatsApp.
- PIB’s Fact Check Unit has responded to over 25,000 actionable queries to date.
- 167 cases of fake news/ misinformation have been reported to social media platforms for removal by the Election Commission. This was during the 2019 Lok Sabha Election and all Legislative Assembly Elections held after 2019.
A rundown of Election Commission’s efforts to tackle fake news
On the question of steps taken to combat fake news during elections, the ministry enumerated the following courses of action taken by the EC to restrain misinformation:
- The constitutional body issues a press note in all general elections which incorporates guidelines issued by the Press Council of India, News Broadcasters Association, and Voluntary Code of Ethics to be observed by print, electronic and social media during the election.
- It encourages adherence to a set of guidelines dated August 27, 2012, regarding the constitution of district-level and state-level Media Certification and Monitoring Committee (MCMC) that includes a Social Media Expert to monitor any election-related violation on social media.
- The commission appoints a Social Media nodal officer at the ECI level for coordinating with Chief Electoral Officers and social media intermediary platforms during elections.
- Model Code of Conduct is applicable to content on the internet including social media.
- Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) in consultation with EC has implemented a set of ”Voluntary Code of Ethics” for all elections since the 2019 Lok Sabha election.
What are the other steps that the Centre has taken to rein in fake news?
The ministry, in its response, also listed the steps that it has undertaken to raise awareness on issues related to fake news.
- Advisories are issued to private satellite TV channels for adherence to the Programme Code under the Cable TV Network (Regulation) Act, 1995
- The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology runs a programme, Information Security Education & Awareness (ISEA), to create awareness among users by highlighting the importance of following ethics while using the internet and advising them to not share rumors.
- A website for information security awareness (https://www.infosecawareness.in) disseminates material on raising relevant awareness.
- The Ministry of Home Affairs has instructed law enforcement agencies to monitor social media regularly, to guard against the circulation of fake news, and to initiate legal action against offenders under the relevant acts.
What is the legislation in place to combat fake news?
In its response, the ministry said:
- The Press Council of India has framed ”Norms of Journalistic Conduct” under the Press Council Act, 1978, for print media.
- The Programme Code under Section 5 of the Cable Television Networks Regulation Act, 1995, regulates television.
- The government has notified Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 under the provision of IT Act, 2000, for social media intermediaries and digital news publishers. These guidelines provide for due diligence to be undertaken by intermediaries including social media intermediaries, and a Code of Ethics for digital news publishers.
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