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I&B Ministry uses emergency provision of IT Rules to block online content for the first time

The content in question was reportedly brought to the Ministry’s attention by India’s domestic intelligence agency.

The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has blocked 20 YouTube channels and two news websites using the emergency provisions available in the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021, as per a press release issued on December 21. The provisions allow the government to order the complete banning of certain online content under Rule 16 of the rules, without giving the intermediary or publishers of such content a chance to be heard.

As per the IT Rules, a MIB-instituted inter-departmental committee has to review such an order and ratify it, although it is not clear from the ministry’s release whether that has been done. In the release, the MIB said that these channels and websites formed a “coordinated disinformation network operating from Pakistan” which was “spreading fake news about various sensitive subjects related to India.”

The IT Rules have been widely criticised by social media intermediaries, news media organisations, and civil society for increasing government control over online content.

Which content was blocked?

MIB said that 15 YouTube channels of the ‘Naya Pakistan’ group that is allegedly run with the aid of the Pakistan Intelligence Services, were blocked. The ministry listed the names of 14 such channels:

  1. Najam Ul Hassan Bajwa
  2. Mian Imran Ahmad
  3. Sadaf Durrani
  4. Fictional
  5. Punjab Viral
  6. Naya Pakistan Global
  7. The PunchLine
  8. GoGlobal E-commerce
  9. Cover Story
  10. Junaid Haleem official
  11. Tayyab Hanif
  12. Zain Ali official
  13. Mohsin Rajput official
  14. Kaneez Fatima

There are also six other channels named in the press release.

  1. ‘The Naked Truth’,
  2. ’48 News’
  3. International Web news
  4. Khalsa TV
  5. Historical facts
  6. News24

Altogether, the channels had 586 million views and over 3 million subscribers. The content was first flagged by the Intelligence Bureau after which MIB conducted an enquiry, according to an Economic Times report.

Emergency provisions of the IT Rules

  • An authorised officer, appointed by the MIB, can submit a recommendation to the MIB Secretary for the immediate blocking of certain content in cases of public emergency under Rule 16 of the IT Rules. The rule states that the grounds for such blocking are laid in Section 69 of the IT Act, which lays out interest of the sovereignty, defence, security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, preventing incitement to the commission of any cognizable offence relating to above, or investigation of any offence as grounds.
  • If the MIB Secretary is satisfied with the necessity of such blocking, they can issue a direction to the publishers or an intermediary as an interim measure, recording the reasons for it in writing.
  • Within 48 hours, the issue will be bought for consideration and recommendation before the IDC whose decision will prevail.
  • In case the IDC decides against the blocking, the MIB Secretary will revoke their order.

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I cover health technology for MediaNama, among other things. Reach me at anushka@medianama.com

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