Banning of Social Media News Platforms in Haryana: How Far Justified ?
JAG MOHAN THAKEN –Editor-in-Chief-INF
Deputy Commissioners of seven districts – Fatehabad , Sonipat, Kaithal, Charkhi Dadri, Karnal, Narnaul and Bhiwani in Haryana have banned all the social media news platforms WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook, Telegram, YouTube, Instagram, Public App and LinkedIn operating under their jurisdiction on getting information of broadcasting / communicating fake news during COVID crisis by some of the social media news platforms , instead of taking legal action against the defaulting platforms only .
Exercising the powers of District Magistrate and Chairperson of District Disaster Management Authority , these DC’s have taken the plea that dissemination of unverified and misleading news from such platforms may disturb tranquility in the society and may adversely affect the mental health of common man during the coronavirus pandemic.
The District Magistrates’ orders also state that the violations of these orders is punishable under Section 188 and 505(1) of IPC , Section 54 of Disaster Management Act 2005 and Section 1 and 2 of Epidemic Disease Act, 1957.
Latestly the such ban has been imposed by Fatehabad . Karnal Deputy Commissioner Mr. Nishant Kumar Yadav issued such ban order on July 10 for 15 days , which states-“Some persons in Karnal District ,without getting registered with DIPR Haryana or Information & Broadcasting Ministry ,Government of India , are disseminating news on various social media platforms e.g You- Tube , WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook, Telegram, Instagram , Public App, LinkedIn and others without verifying the facts and purely based on misleading and incorrect facts , due to which there is the possibility of arising a misleading or confusing situation during the COVID pandemic . If this is not controlled, it may have bad effect on the mental health of the populace .”
The first such order was issued by the Charkhi Dadri Deputy Commissioner exercising his powers as District Magistrate on May 12 this year.
The Bhiwani District Magistrate issued such order on 26 June,2020 applicable till further orders and circulated it to the concerned offices vide office letters no.5650-5700/M-B dated 26.06.2020 for information & necessary action .
The main focus while banning these platforms has been centralized on two points. Firstly these platforms have not been got registered either with DIPR Haryana or Information & Broadcasting Ministry ,Government of India. Secondly dissemination of unverified and misleading news by some of these .
Here the first question arises, whether the DIPR Haryana or Information & Broadcasting Ministry ,Government of India has framed any policy for getting these platforms registered or under which parameter it is mandatory to get registered with these departments ?
Replying the question that if there are any guidelines of Central Government or the concerned State Government to get these social media platforms registered for their operation?, Balwinder Singh Jammu , National General Secretary Indian Journalists Union (IJU) comments that there are no such guidelines of the central government and IJU is against such ban as well as the fake news. “There are no such guidelines issued by the centre govt. We are against the ban. Indian journalist union is against the ban and same time we also against the fake news.”
Also the Haryana DIPR had no policy of registration of such Social Media News Platforms on date of banning these platforms by seven Deputy commissioners as is evident from the assurance of Haryana Chief Minister , Manohar Lal Khattar to the representatives of Karnal journalists.
The peeved Journalists Union and journalists of Karnal associated with such platforms under the banner of Haryana Patrakar Sangh met Haryana Chief Minister , Manohar Lal Khattar on July 11 to raise this ban issue , who assured the journalists that a policy for the social media will be finalized within 48 hours .
Mr. K B Pandit ,President Haryana Patrakar Sangh told the writer of these lines on 13.07.2020 , “We had met the chief minister on 11th July and chief minister ensured us that in next 48 HOURS they would announce a policy with regard to social media news channel/pages , so we are expecting that today govt should announce the policy, so as media channel can start their operations ASAP.”
Also if there is a policy of mandatory registration of Haryana Government or its DIPR for such platforms to run, why the state government is not banning these platforms in all the 22 districts?
Now the second question strikes in mind, “Why all the platforms were banned instead of banning the fake or misleading news spreaders only ?”
The Order of Karnal DC states , “As about the number of such social media platforms operating in the district , it is very difficult to ascertain the exact number and impossible to serve them individual notices , so a ban is being imposed on all such platforms .”
Haryana Patrakar Sangh President , K B Pandit says, “It is very disheartening to know that Karnal’s observant, responsible District administration took decision of Blanket ban on Karnal’s social media news channel for next 15 days solely on presumptions of certain facts. It is very unfortunate to see that without giving a second thought of how Social Media Journalists have worked 24×7 during pandemic outbreak for the people of Karnal. This platform has played a vital role in bridging gap between the Government and people. Thus instead of blanket ban on the social media, government should have in first place thought of regulating the social media by bringing out rules and regulations as per process.”
Thirdly the Information divulges that District Magistrate Karnal has cited Supreme Court decision of date 31.03.2020 in Civil Writ Petition NO. 468/2020 and 469/ 2020 passed in Alakh Alok Shrivastav V/S Union Of India and others in support of his action.
Commenting on the Supreme Court decision , which was taken as supporting base by the Karnal District Magistrate in his banning order, Mr. K B Pandit refutes , “I would also cite the recent Supreme Court decision (W.P 468/2020) , In this case the Central Government approached the Supreme Court seeking a directive to news outlets to refrain from publishing any COVID-19 related news without clearance from the government on the ground of ‘fake or inaccurate’ reporting could cause panic in the country but the Hon’ble supreme Court rejected this request of Central Govt.”
When there is no policy or guideline of the Central Government or the Haryana State Government to register such platforms on date , then why such bans are being imposed on all the Social Media News Platforms instead of gripping the neck of fake or inaccurate news reporting platforms ?
How far such bans are justified ? , The question still awaits the answer.