FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION DURING COVID -19.

Reading time : 10 minutes

INTODUCTION:

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

ENFORCEMENT:

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 VaishSenior Editor, LexLife India.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

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