Opposing the PIB's Proposed Role in Regulating News and Information
The Press Information Bureau (PIB) is a government agency in India that is responsible for disseminating information to the print, electronic, and web media on government plans, policies, program initiatives, and achievements. The PIB is headed by the Official Spokesperson of the Government of India and is based in the National Media Centre in New Delhi. However, a recent proposal by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology has raised concerns about the role of the PIB in regulating news and information.
The Proposed Amendment
- The proposed amendment to the IT Rules would allow the PIB or any other agency “authorized by the central government for fact-checking” to take down content deemed as false. This has raised many concerns about the implications for free speech and information.
- The question that needs to be asked is how a government agency whose job is to disseminate information on government policies and achievements could also be the deciding authority on what is factual and what is not. The absurdity of an interested party also playing the judge cannot be missed.
Implications for Free Speech and Information
- If the proposal is implemented, the government would have the power to play the role of a super censor at will. This proposal signals a new low in the administration’s thinking on matters of regulating news and information.
- The government in recent years has given enough indications that it wants to control the news sphere, with the reworked IT Rules in early 2021 being an example of this. The government also wants to control data privacy, which is reflected in the provisions of the data privacy Bill.
Fact-Checking vs Defending the Government
- Defending the government and its institutions in the public sphere by putting out data or statements is within the PIB’s ambit and logically defensible.
- However, fact-checking is a different thing altogether. The PIB’s fact-check unit has debunked rumors circulating on various social media platforms, but it has done so as an agency of the government. Making its “fact-checks” binding on news disseminating platforms is something else. With this, the government will have a tool with which to easily throttle voices opposing it. Indeed, it will be the sole arbiter of truth.
The proposal by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology needs to be opposed without even a second look. The proposed amendment to the IT Rules is problematic at many levels and has deep implications for free speech and information. The government should not be the sole arbiter of truth, and determination of fake news should not be in the hands of the government alone. This will only result in censorship of the press. The Editors Guild of India has rightly criticized the proposal, pointing out that fake news has to be dealt with in an appropriate manner, but the proposal in question will only make the task harder.
Written by IAS POINT