At least six Haryana deputy commissioners have imposed a ban on social media news platforms, saying that “the spread of unverified and misleading information from such platforms can disturb the tranquility of society and harm to the Mental Health of the Ordinary Man” during the coronavirus pandemic. State activists opposed the move, calling the curbs an “undeclared emergency” and an attempt to “silence the voice of social media.”
All social media news platforms based on WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook, Telegram, YouTube, Instagram, Public App and LinkedIn fall under the ban ordered by the DCs of Sonipat, Kaithal, Charkhi Dadri, Karnal, Narnaul and Bhiwani .
Karnal DC imposed the ban for 15 days, while the other five imposed the restrictions “until further notice”.
The first such order was issued by the Charkhi Dadri DC exercising its powers as a district magistrate on May 12 this year, while the latest order came from the Karnal DC on July 10.
“None of Sonipat’s social media platforms have been granted permission to operate as a news channel. They have not been registered nor by the Directorate of Information and Public Relations, Government of Haryana nor by the Union Government Information and Broadcasting Commissioner.There is a possibility of (spreading) fear among much of society in this abnormal circumstance of coronavirus pandemic due to fake news intentional or unintentional or false reports from social media news channels… So it is necessary to register from any regulatory body for the operation of a social media platform as a news channel information,” mentioned the order issued by Sonipat DC Shyam Lal Punia on June 16.
The restrictions were imposed under IPC Section 188, the Disaster Management Act 2005 and the Epidemic Diseases Act 1957. It was also pointed out that violation of these laws can also result in imprisonment and penalties.
However, a human rights activist, Sukhvinder Nara, called the restrictions “arbitrary and unconstitutional”.
“Section 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and expression, including freedom of the media. The action of the authorities is a violation of this constitutional provision. The DCs involved cited a Supreme Court order while imposing the restrictions, but the Supreme Court did not order any bans on social media news platforms,” says Nara, a lawyer by profession.
He adds, “A careful reading of the SC judgment, as cited in the restraining order, reveals that the Supreme Court simply asked the central and state governments to stop the fake news. It appears that the district magistrates misinterpreted the SC order and imposed the ban without compelling reasons. »
Nara also sent a memorandum to the Chief Secretary of State stating that “steps have been taken by the authorities even without collecting data to find out whether social media reports are spreading false news related to Covid-19”.
“In the event that a social media news channel publishes false news about any issue, officers have jurisdiction to obtain registered FIRs against the false news channels, but they have no authority to prohibit the operation of news platforms on social media,” he added.
Expressing similar sentiments, RTI campaigner PP Kapoor said: “It seems the administration is abusing the Disaster Management Act to cover up its failures. In the absence of such channels, the administration will not be able to get an idea of the bitter truth of the problems at the local level.
Sharing an episode of Karnal where social media helped the administration shut down rumors about coronavirus, Haryana President Patrakar Sangh, KB Pandit said, “There was speculation in Karnal that vegetables would not be available after the introduction of containment. With these rumors, people rushed to the local vegetable mandis. But local news platforms on social media highlighted the appeal of local government in which it was said there would be no shortage of vegetables even during lockdown.
However, justifying the banning order, Shyam Lal Punia, who first issued such an order as Charkhi Dadri District Magistrate, said, “Checks and balances are also needed for such platforms. Some type of record should also be there for these platforms to bring a sense of accountability on their part as well.
“These platforms shared details of corona patients along with their names on social media. The patient lists were wrong. Even we don’t reveal the name of the patients,” Punia said, while speaking to The Indian Express.
However, KB Pandit says sometimes even officials reveal the identities of coronavirus patients, so ‘social media shouldn’t be blamed’
“Currently, there is no registration system for social media news platforms,” Pandit added.
Meanwhile, web portal reporters run by Pandit met Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar in Karnal on Saturday to seek his intervention in the matter.
“The Chief Minister assured that a policy for social media will be finalized within 48 hours, adding that the government will also try to help web portals. I think the criteria will soon be finalized for the recognition of social media journalists and advertisements on these platforms,” the veteran journalist said.
On July 6, the Haryana Cabinet had decided to introduce the Digital Advertising Policy, 2020 noting that new platforms have emerged in digital media.
“Many ancillary checks and balances have been incorporated into the policy to ensure transparency and accountability of websites, new apps and also ensure content integrity,” the government said at the time.