IT Rule Changes: Is the Government the Only Arbiter of Truth?

Inspired by George Orwell’s novel 1984 and its concept of Newspeak, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) has devised powers to determine bogus, deceptive, or misleading internet content about any Central Government business. While the government claims that these reforms are for an Open, Safe, Trusted, and Accountable Internet, their influence on natural justice, transparency, and trust in government is doubtful.

What exactly is meant by “fake news”?

  • Fake news is information that is purposely produced or misrepresented as true news. It can be spread by traditional media outlets such as newspapers or television, although it is more usually connected with social media platforms and other internet sources.
  • Fake news can range from fully made-up stories to misleading headlines and content that has been intentionally manipulated or removed from context in order to fool readers.
  • It is frequently used for political goals, such as manipulating public opinion or disseminating false information about individuals, organizations, or events.

What makes Government’s claim questionable?

1. No safeguards for natural justice

  • The IT Amendment Rules, 2023, contain provisions that allow the government to serve as a judge in its own case, which goes against the notion of natural justice. This is contrary to the principles of natural justice, which require a transparent process with a fair opportunity of hearing and a lawful order.
  • Government censorship: The absence of such safeguards in the IT Rules may result in government censorship, in which the government may rally citizens to its cause through press releases and tweets without presenting legal reasons or the remedy of a legal challenge.

2. Government censorship in the name of safety

  • With the new powers, the decision of fraudulent, inaccurate, or misleading material by a Central Government fact-checking unit would result in a fast take-down of the content, rendering it inaccessible not only on social media but also on the news portal’s website.
  • Prevents critical comprehension: This prevents readers from developing a critical knowledge of facts, which is a natural consequence of a democratic system. As a result, the IT Rules undercut the administration of justice by assuming that only the executive knows what is best for citizens.

3. Lack of details on fact-checking body composition

  • Lack of details and autonomy of the fact-checking body: The makeup and architecture of regulatory organisations are vital for a trusted internet. When these bodies are not financially and functionally autonomous, they become subordinate to government and political interests. This undermines the foundation of trust in government that has been developed through investigation.
  • The Union Government is the lone arbiter of truth: Under the current system, the Union Government is the solitary arbitrator of truth, leaving citizens with little choice except to trust the government.

The foundation for accountability

  • Accountability necessitates corrective steps that are neither false measures of appeasement nor unreasonable or severe penalties.
  • The IT Rules target institutions that strive for accountability, making its goal harder to attain.
  • Journalists’ role is to publish facts and speak truth to power, and the tagline Open, Safe, Trusted, and Accountable Internet means little in a Digital India where Newspeak-like laws prevent free information sharing.

@the end

The IT Rules of 2023, inspired by George Orwell’s Newspeak, may result in government censorship, a lack of natural justice, and a lack of trust in government. To develop trust among citizens, the government must design regulatory institutions with transparency, impartiality, and accountability. Instead than depending on a Central Government fact-checking unit, it is critical to develop independent regulatory agencies with financial and functional autonomy in order to foster a truly free, safe, and trusted internet.

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