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Establishing Independent Bodies to Assist Gov with Online Fact-Checking: Karnataka IT Min Priyank Kharge

State’s IT Min reassured the Editors Guild of India that the unit would be bias-free and would transparently explain its fact-checking methods to the public.

“We are in the process of establishing independent bodies that will be enlisted to assist us in combatting fake news and misinformation,” Karnataka’s IT Minister Priyank Kharge tweeted on Tuesday morning, while responding to the Editors Guild of India’s recent statement questioning the impact of the state’s proposed ‘fact-check’ unit on the free press.

“While admittedly there is a problem of misinformation and fake news, especially in the online space, efforts to check such content have to be by independent bodies that are not under the sole purview of the government, lest they become tools to clamp down on voices of dissent,” the Editors Guild of India argued on Sunday.

Approved by Chief Minister Siddaramaiah last week, the unit will reportedly clamp down on fake news or information online violating India’s IT laws, raising questions of potential government-led censorship online, among others. Responding to MediaNama’s questions on the matter last week, Kharge added that the “apolitical unit” will make use of predictive technologies to catch misinformation online early on.

In its statement on Sunday, the Guild pointed out that monitoring of content should follow natural justice principles, including providing prior notice (unspecified as to whether this is for platforms or users), the right to appeal, and judicial oversight. Stakeholder consultation is also required to ensure that press freedoms are not tampered with.

Kharge reassured the Guild that the unit would be bias-free and would transparently explain its fact-checking methods to the public. “We will diligently follow the tenets of natural justice. Let it be clear that the establishment of this unit is in no way an attempt to impinge upon the freedom of the press,” the Minister claimed.

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(Partially) Unanswered questions: The Guild requested the Karnataka government to clearly specify the scope, powers, and governance mechanism of the unit. It also urged the government to undertake consultations with “press organisations” while developing the framework. Kharge’s response did not elaborate on these two points—only time will tell how the state government will answer these questions.

“The right not to be told what is the truth by your government is what differentiates citizens from subjects…If we have to continue as fully informed, fully deliberative, fully engaging citizens in a democratic polity, it’s necessary that this rule is constitutionally struck down.”

Do past critiques of the Guild’s fact check challenges still stand?: Notably, when the Karnataka proposal hit the news cycle, India’s Minister of State for IT, Rajeev Chandrasekhar, criticised it for ‘criminalising’ misinformation, unlike the Indian government’s proposed unit. Chandrasekhar also took a shot at the Guild (among others) for creating “noise n misinformation” on the Indian government’s unit, as well as the “stoic silence” from “allies n left media” on the Karnataka unit’s shortcomings.

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I'm interested in stories that explore how countries use the law to govern technology—and what this tells us about how they perceive tech and its impacts on society. To chat, for feedback, or to leave a tip: aarathi@medianama.com

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