Few days ago, a message disseminated on Whatsapp claiming that Justice Dalveer Bhandari, currently the only Justice of Indian Origin serving at the International Court of Justice(ICJ) has been elected as the Chief Justice at the ICJ. The message further claimed that such an unprecedented event has happened after 71 years due to the combined efforts of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet.
After fact checking it was found out that all of it was nothing but a farce. It is not the first time that such rumors have been cooked up and served in our plates. We all have been participants and victims both to such news.
Fake news is referred to as those news stories that are false, fabricated, with no verifiable facts, sources, or quotes.1 Such news hold no substance and are often spread to influence political views or as jokes.
Fake news has existed since the printing press saw the light of the day but today in the epoch of Internet it has become quotidian. The manipulation of news with false and fabricated facts is not limited to India but in fact has become a global trend now. Russia has been accused of manipulating the 2016 US elections through bots and fake news; it is a well-documented case of inter-national online manipulation. Russian interference in elections in the US and West Europe has been the biggest content manipulation concern in recent years.
The destruction caused by fake news has become a serious challenge. It creates an atmosphere of misinformation which in consequence leads to inchoation of many crimes. In this epoch where news spread like wildfire, Fake News is served in the form of morphed images, click baits, unverified information and many more such things that constitute false and fabricated facts. Fake news has contributed to many instances which fuelled violence and led to number of lynching and killings. The Muzzafarnagar riots of 2013, the news of missing student of JNU Najeeb Ahmad joining the ISIS, Nostradamus predicting the rise of an eminent world leader named Narendus and the list goes on, all these news were fabricated.
What are the Laws present in the Indian Scenario to put up a check on such Fake News?
Unfortunately, there are no specific laws to regulate fake news in India. Article 19 of the Indian Constitution which guarantees Freedom of Speech and Expression covers a wide ambit of rights and the right of publication of news date its source of origination from Article 19 itself.
1) https://www.news18.com/news/india/explained-what-is-fake-news-on-social-media-and-laws-to-punish- offenders-3520481.html
2 ) https://www.drishtiias.com/pdf/1584990847-the-problem-of-fake-news-in-india-issues-concerns-and- regulation.pdf
As discussed earlier there are no specific acts to curb the publication of fake news however certain sections of the Indian Penal Code, the Information Technology Act etc., deal with this aspect.
• Section 505(1) of Indian Penal Code, 1860- “Whoever by making, publishing or circulating any statement, rumour or report which may cause fear for an alarm to the public, or to any section of the public shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to three years, or with fine or with both”
• Section 153 of Indian Penal Code- “Whoever malignantly, or wantonly, by doing anything illegal, gives provocation to any person intending or knowing it to be likely that such provocation will cause the offense of rioting to be committed, shall, if the offense of rioting be committed in consequence of such provocation be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine, or with both; and if the offense of rioting be not committed, with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine, or with both”.
• Section 295 of Indian Penal Code-“ Injuring or defiling place of worship with intent to insult the religion of any class.—Whoever destroys, damages or defiles any place of worship, or any object held sacred by any class of persons with the intention of thereby insulting the religion of any class of persons or with the knowledge that any class of persons is likely to consider such destruction, damage or defilement as an insult to their religion, shall be punishable with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.”
• Section 499 and 500 of Indian Penal Code- “ Whoever, by words either spoken or intended to be read, or by signs or by visible representations, makes or publishes any imputation concerning any person intending to harm, or knowing or having reason to believe that such imputation will harm, the reputation of such person is said, except in the case hereinafter expected, to defame that person” and “Whoever defames another shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine or with both”.
• Section 66D of Information Technology Act- “Whoever, by means for any communication device or computer resources cheats by personating shall be punished with the imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine which may extend to one lakh rupees”.
• Section 54 of the Disaster Management Act- “Whoever makes or circulates a false alarm or warning as to disaster or its severity or magnitude, leading to panic shall be punished with the imprisonment which may extend to one year or with fine”.
Regulatory bodies like Press Council of India, a regulatory body, can warn, admonish or censure the newspaper, the news agency, the editor or the journalist or disapprove the conduct of the editor or the journalist if it finds that a newspaper or a news agency has violated journalistic ethics.3
News Broadcasters Association (NBA) is in charge of representing the private television news and current affairs broadcasters. The self-regulatory body scrutinizes complaints against electronic media.
Indian Broadcast Foundation (IBF) examines the complaints against any content aired by the channels.
Broadcasting Content Complaint Council (BCCC) keeps a check on the complaints against the broadcasters of Television for content that is objectionable and for fake news.
In the times when the pandemic hit the world, the misinformation spread by the fake news became equally contagious. The peril created by the fake news during the pandemic was at its zenith be it regarding the source of the virus, the duration of the lockdown or the efficacy of the vaccines. The atmosphere of fear created by the fake news was such that the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India had to intervene in order to halt the panic among the general masses.
Earlier in the month, the Apex Court had expressed its concern over the Fake, Communal News that spread on social media. Social media only listens to “the powerful voices” and several things are written against judges, institutions without any accountability, said the bench which also comprised Justices Surya Kant and A S Bopanna.
4. As George Bernard Shaw once said, “Beware of false knowledge, it is more dangerous than ignorance”. There is a dire need of a Legislation wholly dedicated to keep fake news in check. People should be conscious and aware about the fake news. Regulation of fake news is a tricky task, if not controlled it can cause instability in the social and political scenarios and at the same time if it is bridled more than the limits it could harm the liberty of the press. So, the next time when you receive a message claiming Jana Gana Mana has been declared as the best national anthem by UNESCO, be a responsible citizen and refrain from forwarding it so that the spread of the misinformation could be halted.
3 https://www.drishtiias.com/pdf/1584990847-the-problem-of-fake-news-in-india-issues-concerns-and- regulation.pdf
4 https://www.india.com/news/india/supreme-court-expresses-concern-over-fake-communal-news-on-social- media-4930894/
Author: Ishita Tripathi
Ishita is a final year law student, with a penchant for reading autobiographies and dancing. She loves debating and has been a National level Debator. She is going to be a first generation lawyer and is very keen on building a career in litigation.