The Karnataka government does not seek to curtail the freedom of speech of individuals or media organisations through its proposed fact-checking unit, state minister Priyank Kharge said on Thursday, The New Indian Express reported.
Kharge, the state information technology minister, made the statement at a press conference in Bengaluru during which he announced details about the proposed body’s structure.
“We are not here to control or regulate anybody,” he said. “We have no intention to curtail freedom of speech of any individuals or press.”
Kharge said that in cases of misinformation, disinformation and malinformation, the government will initiate action under the Information Technology Act, Indian Penal Code or Disaster Management Act.
He alleged that some political parties and organisations were exploiting social media in order to spread misinformation. “It is essential to reduce the effect of fake news and misinformation on society,” he said, according to The New Indian Express.
Kharge said that the fact-checking unit will be a “misinformation combat cell”, which will comprise an oversight committee, a single point of contact to carry out reviews, and nodal officers, PTI reported.
The minister said that the unit will also have an analytics team that will be tasked with monitoring the information ecosystem and identifying important information disorder nodes. Further, the body will include a capacity-building team responsible for holding public awareness campaigns and building applications for strengthening the information ecosystem.
The Congress government in the state had approved the setting up of the fact-check unit last month. The body is meant to crack down on fake news, phishing emails and cyber crime, the government said.
On August 27, 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.
Kharge on Wednesday unveiled the fact-check framework a day after the Karnataka Police booked Hindi news channel Aaj Tak’s Consulting Editor Sudhir Chaudhary for spreading misinformation about a commercial vehicle subsidy scheme for religious minorities, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.
Chaudhary has been booked under Indian Penal Code Sections 505 (statements conducing to public mischief) and 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion).
The journalist had said on a show that the Congress government had said that the scheme would be made available to those from the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, but so far no such notification had been released.
However, people from the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in Karnataka can also avail subsidies to buy electric vehicles under the scheme. Citizens from the two communities can also avail of similar benefits through the Airavatha Scheme, under which the government assists them in taking up work with cab aggregators. The scheme also provides for a subsidy of Rs 5 lakh to buy a light motor vehicle.