The Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting on Tuesday ordered the blocking of 20 YouTube channels and two news websites, claiming that they were spreading “anti-India propaganda and fake news”.
The ministry has asked the Department of Telecom to direct internet service providers to block these channels and websites. The action was taken under provisions of Rule 16 of the new Information Technology Rules which allows authorities to block content “in case of emergency”.
“The channels and websites belong to a coordinated disinformation network operating from Pakistan and spreading fake news about various sensitive subjects related to India,” the ministry said in a release on Tuesday. “The channels were used to post divisive content in a coordinated manner on topics like Kashmir, Indian Army, minority communities in India, Ram Mandir, General Bipin Rawat, etc.”
The ministry claimed that 15 of the 20 YouTube channels that have been asked to be blocked are part of network of a body called “The Naya Pakistan Group”. The group is operated from Pakistan and some its channels were being operated by anchors of Pakistani news channels, the ministry claimed.
These channels had a combined subscriber base of over 35 lakh and their videos were viewed more than 55 crore times, the ministry said.
“These YouTube channels had also posted content on issues such as the farmers’ protest, protests related to the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, and tried to incite the minorities against the Government of India,” the government release stated. “It was also feared that these YouTube channels would be used to post content to undermine the democratic process of the upcoming elections in five states.”
The ministry observed that most of the content of these channels pertained to “subjects sensitive from the perspective of national security and are factually incorrect”.
Union Minister of Information and Broadcasting Anurag Thakur said that an inquiry was conducted to assess the attempts to spread anti-India content from across the border, reported the Hindustan Times.
“These channels and web portals were in violation of the law,” he claimed. “Strict action has been taken against websites which seek to promote Pakistan’s agenda and prevent them from working against India.”
The new IT rules, introduced by the Centre in February, are a sweeping set of regulations for social media companies, streaming platforms and digital news content. They virtually bring the platforms under the government’s supervision for the first time.
For digital news media and video streaming platforms, the new rules provide a self-regulatory body and an inter-departmental committee wide-ranging punitive powers to “warn/censure/admonish/reprimand the publisher” or even censor content as they deem fit.