Priyanka Chaturvedi Says Move to ‘Regulate’ Online News Against Freedom of Expression

New Delhi: Priyanka Chaturvedi, Rajya Sabha MP and Shiv Sena leader, said the government of the day cannot discriminate amongst online news platforms depending on their loyalty to the ruling dispensation, as it goes against the principle of freedom of expression.

In a letter dated March 12, she had written to the Rajya Sabha secretary general requesting that she be allowed to raise the matter regarding the government’s new rules to “regulate” online news portals during the parliament session on March 15, Monday. She described the matter as having “urgent public importance”.

The Shiv Sena’s deputy leader in the Rajya Sabha said, “It is a matter of concern that Government of India…has formed a Group of Ministers to keep an eye on those online portals which are not toeing the line of the Government of the day.”

The Shiv Sena leader noted that the government is planning to “promote” those portals that are “pro-government.”

“It may be noted that Government is constitutionally obligated not to discriminate between different news outlets based on their loyalty to the Government,” she said, adding that it is against the principle of freedom of expression.

Her letter requested, through the Rajya Sabha, to issue “urgent” and “suitable directions” be issued to the Government of India to follow the “principle of neutrality” regarding online news portals.

“According to a report by The Caravan early this month, the government’s move to ‘regulate’ digital news media to counter ‘fake news’ was preceded by a report compiled by a group of ministers (GoM) in mid-2020 to “neutralise” independent news media as it “generates a lot of heat”.

The GoM report was compiled after six meetings during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The recently notified Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 have come under criticism for granting sweeping powers to the government, including a provision to take down content.

Meanwhile, on March 9, the Delhi high court issued notice to the Centre on a petition filed by the Foundation for Independent Journalism, publisher of The Wire, which pleads that the government’s new IT Rules relating to digital news websites go beyond the scope of what is permissible under the IT Act and need to be struck down. (The Wire)

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