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                           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.

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