SC stays MeitY’s notification appointing PIB as FCU

Posted On - 30 April, 2024 • By - King Stubb & Kasiva

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (“MeitY”) in exercise of the powers conferred by sub-clause (v) of clause (b) of sub-rule (1) of rule 3 of the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 (the “IT Amendment Rules, 2023”), designated the Press Information Bureau (“PIB”) of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (“MIB”) as the fact-checking unit (“FCU”). This FCU would identify online content that is “false”, “fake” or “misleading” in respect of any business of the Central Government.

Intermediaries failing to act on content flagged by the unit would risk losing their safe harbour protection under Section 79 of the IT Act, 2000.

Concerns about the lack of transparency regarding the PIB FCU’s composition and decision-making methodology raised doubts about its effectiveness among media outlets and citizens, particularly concerning its potential impacts on press freedom and dissent during the 2024 General Elections.

This notification follows the Bombay High Court’s verdict on March 13, where the Bench declined to restrain the setting up of an FCU until the constitutionality of the 2023 Amendment was determined. Consequently, the Union Government operationalized the FCU. However, on March 21, the Supreme Court stayed the notification issued by the Central government forming FCUs under the IT Amendment Rules, 2023 while stating that the challenge to the validity of IT Rules involved serious constitutional questions and its impact on free speech and expression would need to be analysed by the Bombay High Court.