Fact Check Unit: Age of govt-regulated news dissemination shapes up

PM Narendra Modi at a meeting on rooftop solar scheme (Image credit X @PMO)

PM Narendra Modi at a meeting on rooftop solar scheme

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By Manish Anand

New Delhi, March 21: The Centre swiftly notified the Fact Check Unit (FCU) under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting after the Bombay High Court declined to restrain its notification. This will allow the Centre to issue direction to the social media platforms to take down the contents. While the notification was issued yesterday evening, the FCU had already been in existence for more than five years.

Four years ago, the FCU, working under the Press Information Bureau (PIB), had called a news report of a daily fake while the content was based on the statements made by the patients and their relatives at the AIIMS, New Delhi. The report also had the reaction of the administration of the AIIMS about the lack of facilities for the patients. Yet, the FCU had gone public to say that the report was ‘fake news’. This stands as a sample for the capacity of the FCU to identify fake news which has hit the social media platforms as an avalanche in the past few years.

The Editors Guild of India has challenged the constitution of the FCU. The matter will now be heard before the Supreme Court. Top argument pushed forth by the press bodies against the constitution of the FCU leans on the convention that the government cannot be a censure for the news dissemination.

It is argued that the government itself is a subject of the bulk of the news pieces, and itself cannot decide on the merits of the media contents. This violates the principle of the conflict of interest. It also brings the possibility that critical news pieces against the government may run the risk of being called ‘fake news’.

Instances abound wherein the ministers confront editors and owners of media houses to abuse reporters showing ‘negative mindsets’ if they report critical news pieces. Some reporters have lost their jobs, and a few have seen their news beats changed because of the zealous approach of the ministers to punish reporters for carrying critical reports.

It may also be noted that the PIB consists of the government officials who are specially mandated to work as a medium of exchange of information with the media. The PIB is known to be critically understaffed. The PIB is without any known expertise to track down fake news. Also, the FCU despite being in existence for several years has awfully failed to scorch the harvest of fake news on the social media platforms.

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