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Indian editors decry government move to police online news

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NEW DELHI, INDIA:

The Editors Guild of India is deeply disturbed by the government's move to police news on social media through a self-appointed fact-checking unit, the industry body said on Friday, describing the new rules as draconian and akin to censorship.

The amendments to the country's IT rules make it obligatory on platforms "not to publish, share or host fake, false or misleading information" about the government.

India Prime Minister Narendra Modi's administration has been in repeated tussles with various social media platforms when they failed to heed demands that certain content or accounts be taken down for allegedly spreading misinformation.

The federal government on Thursday announced that it would appoint the fact-check unit to identify fake, false or misleading information, but the Editors Guild questions the unit's governing mechanism, its sweeping powers in determining fake news and the right to appeal in such cases.

"All this is against principles of natural justice, and akin to censorship," the body said in a statement.

"The ministry's notification of such draconian rules is therefore regrettable. The Guild again urges the ministry to withdraw this notification and conduct consultations with media organisations and press bodies."

But the Indian government on Friday said the rules were not draconian and did not have sweeping powers.

"If they chose to disregard fact checking, only consequence is that concerned dept can pursue legal remedy against social media intermediary," Rajeev Chandrasekhar, India minister of state for IT, said on Twitterin response to an opposition leader's tweet criticising the rule.

Chandrasekhar, speaking to reporters on Thursday, dismissed concerns that the amendments would lead to censorship and assured that the fact checks will be done in a credible way.

Digital rights organisation Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) said undefined terms such as "fake," "false" and "misleading" in the amendment make them susceptible to misuse by authorities.

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