This article is written by “Kashish Goyal from Mody University of Science and Technology, Rajasthan”.
As we know that the whole country is going through a pandemic, which is the biggest disaster by now historically. Midst, this people are sharing fake news regarding the virus through WhatsApp and other social media platforms. Indeed, people are already scared of the virus and if the media uses this as for promoting their own business in the context of their fundamental right i.e. Freedom of speech and expression, it would affect the public more than the virus. But people have to understand that fake news could be a bigger threat more than the virus.
Before this pandemic also, much fake news has been shared which leads to misconception in minds of the people. Looking at the current situation of the country, recently, it has been stated by the World Health Organisation that the government is handling two pandemics together one is Corona virus and the other one is Infodemic (which means the spread of false information around the whole world). Both the terms have a similar meaning, as it also spread through the contact, and once if it starts, it becomes unstoppable.
In one of the recent cases of the Supreme Court, Alakh Alok Srivastava v. Union of India, the court pointed out the issue of infodemics in India. The petition contains the problem of the poor worker who wants to go back to their home. One of the fake news has been shared with the workers that lockdown will remain for more than 3 months, While in march the lockdown was officiated to exist for only 21 days, which resulted in the death of many workers as they started travelling back to their homes. This case resulted in making an order by the government to regulate accurate information during the pandemic.
There are many provisions that have already been inserted in the Disaster Management Act, 2005 and Indian Penal Code, 1860. These are:
Section 54 of the DMA Act, states that any false alarm is created or any warning is shared during any disaster like Covid-19 by any person, then he will be imprisoned for one year with the fine.
Section 505(1) (b) of the Indian Penal Code, which defines that, spreading of mischievous and any false information which results in fear in public, the offender will be punished for six-year maximum imprisonment.
One more amendment has been made under Section 79 of the Information Technology Act, 2000 by the Information Technology (Intermediaries guidelines) rules which states that if any content is published or shared on social media and it threatens the public health and safety then the intermediaries within 72 hours has to assist the government if they asked about the measure of the trace of the information.
There are many countries under which the government has already criminalized the false information which is dangerous to the public and includes China, Indonesia, Russia, South Africa, etc.
One recent incident happened in Cambodia, where the police have arrested 17 people for spreading false information about the virus and also it included a teenage girl who spreaded the rumour of the corona virus at her school.
The main issue is the fake content which is being spread by the people who already know it is untrue but they want people to assume it as being true. In the context of Freedom of Speech and Expression, as freedom of the press is not an absolute right, hence, fake news violates this right, But According to Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political which also states that the law shall allow certain restrictions on expression if they are against public peace and order. General prohibitions may be imposed on any law.
On the 20th of March, Advisory Board issued to the governments three things, one is A campaign of awareness for the user to not share fake news which creates fear in the mind of the people, secondly, to take immediate action against such fake content, Lastly, keep on the check that the information which is shared about the Corona virus is accurate.
As we know, due to the pandemic, many states have announced the Public Health Emergency, it is the duty of the government to provide accurate information about what the government is planning. After all these incidents, the government can think on the Chinese style Censorship, under which the government will direct the media to censor the content which they think would not benefit the public peace.
It can be concluded that many measures have already been adopted by the government states but it is,however, not working out. That’s why the provisions which are mentioned above should be strictly followed for securing the public peace. Many of the states have faced this problem for many years but now they are handling it properly. During this pandemic, the government is literally confused about what should be dealt first the Pandemic or Infodemic. According to the Freedom of expression which defines that any individual can express his opinions towards society but it should not be against public peace. While protecting the right at the same time we have to protect the public from fake news which is more dangerous than any right.