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This report surveys the legal act regulating mass media and their ability to distribute information Freely during the COVID-19 pandemic the report focuses on recently introduced amendment to national legislation aimed at establishing different control measures over the media outlets, internet resources and journalists in 20 selected countries around the world where adoption of such laws has been identified .
During the pandemic, ARTICLE 19 will continue to challenge threats to freedom of expression around the world. We will be monitoring and reporting on government overreach, and urging government and other actors to ensure human rights ,including the right to free expression, fully protected in efforts to combat the virus.
Protecting freedom of expression during the COVID-19 crisis: UNESCO issues Guidelines for judicial Operators in the protection and promotion of the rights to freedom of expression access to information and privacy in relation with the COVID-19.
The Outbreak of the COVID -19 Pandemic has resulted in a weakening of fundamental rights such as freedom of expression, the right of access to information, and the right to privacy in many parts of the world. Several national authorities have declared states of emergency, resulting in serious restriction of fundamental rights including freedom of expression. In addition, some governments have adopted laws to fight disinformation, not always in lines with international Human Rights law. It is foreseeable that courts will have to rule on cases related to freedom of the press and safety of journalists in relation with the outbreak of the pandemic.
IN INDIA: 1. Legal framework to “fake news and COVID -19
The freedom of expression is protected under article19(1)(A) of Indian constitution . No provision in Indian law specifically deals with “ fake news” however ,a number of offences under various laws criminalize certain forms of speech that may constitute “fake news” and have been applied to cases involving the spread of false news regarding covid -19, including section of the penal code and section 54 of the disaster management ACT ,2005. The rights is not absolute and is subjected to “reasonable restriction. In late March ,the Union minister of interior announced that “rumor’s are being spread about COVID -19 in the country leading to misinformation. First information report will be registered against those involved in spreading of these rumor’s and strict action will be taken under provision of the disaster management .
- Initially, in February 2020 the union government was advising “relevant agencies “ of the state and union territories to take appropriate action to spread of fake news , advisories, rumor’s and unnecessary information through proper media management .whoever makes or circulate a false alarm or warning as to disaster or its severity or magnitude , leading to panic , shall on conviction be punishable with imprisonment which may extend to one year or with fine .
- After 21 day national lockdown order issued by the union government make reference this section and union minister announced this rumor’s are being spread about covid 19 leading to misinformation.
- State government have also issued regulation to deals with COVID -19 under the epidemic diseases act 1897 that include provision or guidelines on spreading false news.
Also read: IPR laws in India
In late April2020, news report indicated that “around 640 cases have been lodged across the country for allegedly spreading rumor’s and fake news via social media” on the COVID 19 Pandemic “since the government enforced nationwide restrictions. A right and risks analysis group report issued in June 2020 stated as follows:
About 55 journalists faced arrest, registration of FIRs, summons or show causes notices, physical assault ,alleged destruction of properties and threat for reportage on COVID 19 or exercising freedom of opinion and expression during the national lockdown from 25 March to 31 May 2020 followed by all state .
According to the international Centre for NOT–FOR-PROFIT LAW’s COVID 19 civic freedom tracker, the government of Assam field charges against a Bengali daily publish from silchar for carrying a false news was brought against the report about the state’s first COVID19 Patient The case was brought against the reporter who field the story and the publisher of the newspaper under section 188 of (IPC) and provision of Assam COVID19 Regulation, 2020. Additionally Assam DIPR has formed a five –member committee for monitoring and checking fake news in all form the information ,health, police and disaster management department s. the committee surveilled social media accounts and created WhatsApp numbers for the purpose of tracking information circulating on WhatsApp . as on April8,52 cases had been registered for spreading rumor’s/uploading objectionable comments on social media and total of 25 people had been arrested while eight were detained and then released .
Freedom of expression can be limited for public health reasons inasmuch as the three –part test respected “Accordingly, in order to be legitimate, restriction on freedom of expression must comply with a three-part test, based on the principle of legality, legitimacy ,necessity and proportionality in a democratic society .This pandemic is also a “disinfodemic’ which is must be faced by a free independent and plural press”.
Author: Anushka kumari, University of engineering and management
Editor: Kanishka Vaish, Senior Editor, LexLife India.