The Editors Guild of India on Sunday asked the Karnataka government to define the scope and powers of its proposed fact-check unit saying that it should be independent of executive control to ensure that it does not becomes a tool “to clamp down on voices of dissent”.
Last week, the Congress government in the state had approved setting up of a fact-check unit to crackdown on fake news, phishing emails, and cyber crime. The state government said that it will also pass laws against propagating fake news.
“The unit will work towards detecting the syndicates that spread fake news, preventing the dissemination of such news and punishment for those behind the same,” the chief minister’s office said, reported The Indian Express. “The unit will consist of a supervisory committee, fact-finding teams and analysis teams apart from other wings.”
The rise of “deep fake” technology is a potential tool for propagating misinformation and there is need for specialised expertise to counter it effectively, Karnataka’s Information Technology Minister Priyank Kharge had said, reported The News Minute.
Kharge’s ministry said that social media posts and news reports tagged as fake by the fact checking unit will be taken down. It also said that the government will have the power to take penal measures against those sharing fake news.
On Sunday, the Editors Guild of India voiced its concerns about the move saying that efforts to check fake content need to be taken by independent bodies that are not under the sole purview of the government.
“Any such monitoring framework should follow principles of natural justice, including giving prior notice, right to appeal, and judicial oversight,” the press body said. “Such units should also be set up with due consultation and involvement of all stakeholders, including journalists and media bodies, so that press freedom is not tampered with.”
The Guild also pointed out that it has already moved the Bombay High Court against the the Central government’s amendments to the IT Rules, 2023 that allow setting up of a fact checking unit.
Under the amendment notified on April 6, the Centre can set up a unit with powers to flag online information it considers false or misleading. Social media intermediaries also have to censor or modify content flagged by the unit.