April 11, 2023

Good morning. In today’s either/view, we discuss whether the newly published IT Rules 2023 amendment constitutes government censorship. We also look at the supply of electricity by Adani from Jharkhand to Bangladesh, among other news.


IT Rules 2023 amendment: Is it government censorship?

The term “fake news” has become common on the internet. While some might want to use it willy-nilly, there are real-world consequences to online misinformation and disinformation. As social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and TikTok are now in the hands of billions, governments have their work cut out in ensuring citizens get verified information.

India is one of those countries taking action. The government recently published amendments to the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, that requires intermediaries like Twitter and Facebook to remove any post tagged as fake news by the central government’s fact-checking unit. The government argues it’s not censorship and would apply only to the intermediaries. Others say it’s a clear-cut case of censorship.


A couple of years ago, the government announced new stricter guidelines for social media intermediaries that made it mandatory for platforms like WhatsApp to identify the originator of unlawful messages. It also required social media companies to remove such messages, set up grievance redressal mechanisms, and assist government agencies in investigations.

At the time, telecom and IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad called it “soft-touch oversight” to deal with the menace of fake news, among other issues. The rules weren’t welcomed with open arms. While they were lauded for being well-intentioned and bringing in much-needed clarity on the roles and responsibilities of intermediaries, there were concerns about free speech and privacy.

Prasad noted the importance of social media companies in India and how they empowered ordinary Indians. He welcomed them to do business here but said they wouldn’t have free rein. Facebook responded with their standard “safety is of the utmost importance” spiel and said they were an ally of India.

An important tenet of the IT rules is something called “safe harbour” provisions. In 2008, an officer of a website was charged under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) for an obscene video uploaded on the website by a third party. Following this, the Information Technology Act of 2000 was amended in 2008. It stated intermediaries that acted as platforms won’t be held accountable for any liability through an offence committed without their knowledge.

When the 2021 guidelines were announced, some were concerned about government over-regulation. Kazim Rizvi of The Dialogue said the cornerstone of digital freedom is safe harbour. For a platform like WhatsApp, the traceability requirement could break end-to-end encryption, cautioned Rizvi. While all parties acknowledged the need to tackle disinformation and other malicious material online, they couldn’t exactly see eye-to-eye on how to do that.

Now, the government has updated the rules. Social media companies are barred from publishing, hosting, or sharing false information about any business of the government. It also stated they’d have to rely on the government’s own fact-check unit to determine authenticity. If they don’t comply, they’ll lose their safe harbour protections.

In January, the government proposed making the Press Information Bureau of India (PIB) and its other agencies the arbiter of truth on online information and news. They said the PIB could flag and instruct online intermediaries if information relating to the government were fake. For social media companies, dealing with the government’s rules has become a bit of a headache. They’ve got to balance their business interests as well. The government is clear on its stance – there’s no danger of censorship here. Others aren’t buying it.

VIEW: No reason to worry

As governments look to legislation to combat online misinformation and fake news, the Indian government’s approach with the new rules focused on safety, trust, and openness of the internet. Rajeev Chandrasekhar, the Union Minister of State for Electronics and Information Technology, said the new rules aren’t an attempt to censor content.

The government has maintained that this is a light-touch approach to social media regulation and that they’re cognizant of the dangers of curtailing online content. With criticism against the PIB, the government updated the rules to create a regulatory regime that allows a fact-checking body appointed by it to label online content concerning the government. The government assured intermediaries that the body would be credible.

The government argued that the intermediaries could continue to have the flagged content on their platforms since it’s within their rights. They’ll have to only deal with the person or entity who’s aggrieved by the content in court. The existing IT rules already have Section 3(1)(b)(v) that states platforms can’t have misinformation – although in limited scope. The government’s argument is why weren’t there objections when the rules were notified in October.

COUNTERVIEW: Clear-cut censorship

Right out of the gate, the Editors Guild of India spoke against the new amendments. They said it gives the government sweeping powers to remove any content from any media organisation. The central question is, why and how would the government determine what’s fake or not? Why is it being applied to the “business of the government”? The Internet Freedom Foundation didn’t change its stance from a couple of years ago. It argued it’s a chilling effect on the right to free speech and expression.

For starters, PIB and other authorised government entities aren’t currently statutorily empowered to take down online content. Then there’s the fact that the amendments violate the 2013 Shreya Singhal vs Union of India ruling of the Supreme Court. It laid down procedures for blocking content and upheld Section 69A stating content can be blocked only by a reasoned order after complying with safeguards. In 2021, the Madras High Court said there was substance in a petitioners’ grievance that an oversight mechanism by the government may rob the media of its independence. Companies will likely err on the side of caution and remove flagged content rather than hash it out in the courts.

Fact-checking is re-reporting and researching the purported facts made by anyone, and free of partisanship, per the American Press Institute. How credible was the PIB? Not very. Its fact-checking arm, called PIB Fact Check, launched in 2019, was mostly denials of media reports critical of the government. Here’s an example. Even with a government-appointed body possibly replacing the PIB having the final say, there could be a conflict of interest. How independent or unbiased would it actually be?

Reference Links:

  • India to require Facebook and Twitter rely on gov’t fact-checking – Tech Crunch
  • Govt announces new social media rules to curb its misuse – The Hindu
  • Safe Harbour Principle And The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines And Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules (2021) – Mondaq
  • PIB can now flag ‘fake news’ on govt, ask FB, Twitter to bin it – Times of India
  • ‘Disturbed’ by recently amended IT rules: Editors Guild of India – Hindustan Times
  • Explained: The Many Concerns With Giving PIB the Ability to Take Down ‘Fake’ News – The Wire
  • How the Centre’s planned IT rule changes will empower it to censor unfavourable news – Scroll
  • The embarrassment that is PIB Fact Check: Who fact-checks this ‘fact checker’? – Newslaundry

What is your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)

a) The new IT amendment rules aren’t government censorship.

b) The new IT amendment rules are government censorship.


For the Right:

To fight misinformation in India, the young must be taught media and information literacy

For the Left:

The Fallacy of Debate over NCERT Textbook by the Prophets of Doom


Improvements in Bir to enhance Kangra tourism (Himachal Pradesh) – Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Sukhu claimed on Sunday that Bir-Billing is the greatest paragliding spot in the world and has received international acclaim from many. He made the statement while presiding at the Accuracy Paragliding Pre-World Cup concluding ceremony in Bir, Kangra district. The Billing Paragliding Association was complimented by the CM for arranging the event. CM Sukhu also made comments on Kangra’s development, stating that the government is working hard to make Kangra the tourism hub of Himachal Pradesh.

Why it matters: The CM stated that the state government is considering organising a carnival in Bir to increase tourism. He also stated that in order to enhance the ecological condition of Himachal Pradesh, an allocation in the budget has been created to provide a 50% subsidy on the cost of e-trucks, e-buses, and e-taxi, and that taxi operators in Bir would be granted e-taxi licenses, which would raise their revenue. These improvements would help not just visitors but also the locals of Bir, raising their level of living. Sukhu also discussed the possibility of establishing a few educational institutes in the region.

Periyar Tiger Reserve tops management effectiveness (Kerala) – According to the latest report on management effectiveness assessment (MEE) of tiger reserves in India, issued by the Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change (MoEFCC) on Sunday, the Periyar Tiger Reserve (PTR) has attained the first spot in the country. Periyar Tiger Reserve, which dates back to 1934 and was designated as a tiger reserve in 2007, received an MEE score of 94.38% in the ranking of individual tiger reserves.

Why it matters: MEE is a global framework for evaluating the management efficiency of protected areas. According to authorities, the involvement of local people through eco-development committees is critical to PTR conservation efforts. PTR officials intend to use more technology gadgets to monitor activity in protected areas. They will also gradually replace diesel boats used to ferry visitors with solar boats. Despite being the national animal, tigers are an endangered animal species in India. Efficient performance by tiger reserves and sanctuaries is very vital for them to thrive.

Adani starts power supply to Bangladesh (Jharkhand) – Adani Power stated on Sunday that it has begun supplying energy to Bangladesh from its facility in Godda, Jharkhand. Adani Power Ltd (APL), a subsidiary of the Adani Group, has inaugurated the first 800 MW ultra-supercritical thermal energy-producing station in Godda, Jharkhand. According to a business release, the facility has begun providing 748 MW of power to Bangladesh. The Godda Power Plant will serve as a vital asset in India and Bangladesh’s long-standing partnership.

Why it matters: It is the country’s first power plant to begin operations with 100% Flue Gas Desulphurization (FGD), SCR, and Zero Water Discharge, according to the company. The electricity produced by Godda will greatly help the situation in the neighbouring countries since it will replace expensive liquid fuel-generated power, lowering the average cost of energy bought. This is an example of the significant improvements India has witnessed in its foreign relationships.

Covid cases surge by 45% in a day (Maharashtra) – On Sunday, Maharashtra registered 788 new Covid cases, a 45% increase from the previous day. State hospitals prepared for a simulated drill on Monday to ensure they were ready to deal with a potential increase in patients. The simulated drill was ordered by the Union Health Ministry in response to an increase in instances. On Sunday, there were approximately 4,600 active cases in the state, with Mumbai reporting an increase of 1,434 cases.

Why it matters: Officials are holding simulated exercises. The simulation will put the hospital’s abilities to isolate and treat patients, manage symptoms, and guarantee equipment and supplies are available to the public to the test. It will aid in identifying gaps in hospital readiness and provide an opportunity to correct and improve things. Covid -19 has been the biggest tragedy of the 21st century. While the newer strains are low on fatality, another large-scale outbreak of the plague would be a total catastrophe.

Border marking stones of Manipur-Myanmar disappear (Manipur) – Three stones placed to delineate the eastern boundary of the erstwhile Manipur kingdom with Burma during the reign of Maharaja Chandrakriti in the mid-nineteenth century have “disappeared,” a top official said on Monday. Keithellakpam Dinamani, Joint Director of the Arts and Culture department, told PTI that the issue was discovered during a study excursion to the inner Kamjong area by a nine-member team.

Why it matters: The stones were inscribed in Bengali script and engraved with Chandrakriti footprints. Another boulder with a picture of Hanuman was found missing in nearby Chatric Khullen village. The location where the stones disappeared from is uninhabited and surrounded by dense forests. The closest village is four or five kilometres away from the site where the stones were placed. The officials have announced a monetary reward for anybody who brings back the stones. The disappearance of these stones is a significant dent in the cultural heritage of the area.


3,167 – India is now home to 3,167 tigers, an increase of over 200 from four years ago.