India editors warn 'fake news' proposal akin to censorship

FILE PHOTO: Commuters watch videos on their mobile phones as they travel in a suburban train in Mumbai

NEW DELHI (Reuters) -A major Indian journalist group urged the government to reject a proposal to police fake news on social media, saying such a change to the country's information-technology rules would be akin to censorship.

The proposal would bar social media platforms from hosting any information that the authorities identify as false, the latest in a slew of measures by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government that are being seen as efforts to rein in big tech firms.

Information deemed "fake or false" by the Press Information Bureau or by any other agency authorised for fact-checking by the government would be prohibited under the draft amendment issued on Tuesday.

The government will hold a consultation with stakeholders to discuss the amendment on Jan. 24, and has also invited "comments from stakeholders and general public" until Jan. 25.

The Editors Guild of India, in a statement on Wednesday evening, urged the government to scrap the proposal and begin "meaningful consultations" with stakeholders on the regulatory framework for digital media.

Saying the "determination of fake news cannot be in the sole hands of the government", the guild warned that the amendment would "make it easier to muzzle the free press" and "force online intermediaries to take down content that the government may find problematic".

"This will stifle legitimate criticism of the government and will have an adverse impact on the ability of the press to hold governments to account, which is a vital role it plays in a democracy," it said.

(Reporting by Sakshi Dayal; Editing by William Mallard and Raissa Kasolowsky)