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Why Supreme Court has issued stay on Centre's Fact Check Unit? Explained

Written by  Jasleen Kaur -- March 22nd 2024 06:01 PM
Why Supreme Court has issued stay on Centre's Fact Check Unit? Explained

Why Supreme Court has issued stay on Centre's Fact Check Unit? Explained

PTC Web Desk: The Supreme Court has issued a stay on the amended Information Technology (IT) Rules, which introduced a Fact Check Unit (FCU) empowered to identify "fake news" on social media platforms. The Union Electronics and IT Ministry established the Fact Check Unit on March 20, granting it statutory powers under the Press Information Bureau to flag false information related to the Centre and its agencies on social media.

Amendments to IT Rules. 2021

These amendments to the IT Rules, 2021, were notified in April 2023. However, the legal battle ensued when a two-judge Bench of the Bombay High Court delivered a split verdict on January 31, with the third judge's final decision pending. Despite this, the Fact Check Unit was set up, prompting challenges before the courts.

The amended rules expanded the definition of "fake news" to include false information regarding government business. This expansion raised concerns about government overreach and its potential to monopolise truth. Various petitioners, including comedian Kunal Kamra and media organisations, challenged the constitutionality of these amendments, citing violations of fundamental rights under the Constitution and the Information Technology Act, 2000.

Bombay High Court's split verdict

The Bombay High Court deliberated on the constitutionality of these rules. On January 31, a split verdict was delivered, with one judge upholding the rules and another striking them down. As per the court's rules, a third judge was appointed to break the tie. However, before a substantial hearing, the question of staying the rules arose. While the third judge declined to grant an interim stay, an appeal was filed before the Supreme Court.

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What Supreme Court decided...

The Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud, stayed the amended rules until the Bombay High Court reaches a final decision. The court's ruling suggests a cautious approach, emphasising the need to maintain the status quo when faced with conflicting judicial opinions.

The issue at hand raises complex questions regarding freedom of speech, government regulation, and the role of judiciary in safeguarding constitutional rights. It underscores the delicate balance between governmental authority and individual liberties in the digital age.

Challenges before apex court 

In assessing the legality of the amended rules, the Supreme Court faces the challenge of balancing the presumption of constitutionality with the duty to protect fundamental rights. While laws enacted by Parliament are presumed constitutional, judicial review ensures that they do not infringe upon constitutional rights.

The controversy surrounding the FCU highlights broader concerns about government control over information dissemination and the potential for censorship. By granting the government authority to determine the veracity of online content, these rules raise fears of state-sponsored censorship and suppression of dissenting voices.

The Supreme Court's decision to stay the amended rules reflects its commitment to upholding constitutional principles and safeguarding individual freedoms. It signals a recognition of the importance of free speech and the need to prevent government overreach in regulating online discourse.

Moving forward, the legal battle over the FCU will likely continue, with implications for the future of online freedom and government accountability. As technology continues to reshape communication and information sharing, the role of the judiciary in protecting fundamental rights becomes increasingly vital.

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