Government discusses PIB fact checks with stakeholders in February

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Amid outrage over a plan to give its branch PIB powers to monitor fake news on social media, union minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar said on Tuesday the government will hold talks with stakeholders next month before implementing the proposal.

The minister said that the rules for regulating online gambling are expected to be announced on January 31, after which they will be submitted to the House of Representatives.

“We will conduct a separate consultation (on PIB fact-check) sometime early next month,” Chandrasekhar said when asked for clarification on the proposed 2021 IT rule change.

Chandrasekhar also said that the consultation on the Digital Personal Data Protection Act is over and it is being processed within the state government for notification.

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The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) last week released an amendment to the Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code, 2021, which it had previously released for public consultation.

While the consultation is largely concerned with formulating rules for online gaming, it added a small note in the due diligence section for removing content deemed false, bogus, or misleading by the PIB or any government-authorized body marked.

Under the proposed amendment, due diligence by intermediaries includes efforts not to upload, publish, transmit or share information identified as false or untrue by the Fact Check Unit of the Press Information Bureau, learning of false information, both suo motu and via questions from citizens on its portal or via e-mail and WhatsApp and replies with correct information when it comes to the government.

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The determination of fake news cannot be in the hands of the government alone and will result in censorship of the press, the Guild said in a statement here, expressing “deep concern” about the draft change to the Information Technology (IT) rules.

An official source, who declined to be named, said the option of fact-checking by PIB or another government-authorized agency was added to the proposed amendment after consultation with industry.

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“Intermediaries, mainly social media companies, have asked Meity to provide informed fact-checking for misinformation. We are entering a regime where all intermediaries and fact-checkers are held accountable,” the official said.

He said intermediaries are the ones to be regulated and they cannot set up fact-checkers.


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