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Social Media Platforms Banned In 6 Haryana Districts: Is It Justified?

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“If you notice  some incidents of corruption in government offices, instead of bringing these corrupt employees to book,  you ban all these offices to function .”

If incidents of purse snatching—pickpocketing  increase in public transport, then instead of controlling  the  crime or Catching Pocket Pickers  or Purse Snatcher – stop the entire  public transport to run .”

These are the assumptions on which some Deputy Commissioners in Haryana seem to be working to curb the fake news on social media platforms.

As per reports, on getting information of broadcasting and communicating fake news during COVID-19 crisis by some social media news platforms, instead of taking legal action against the defaulting platforms only, Deputy Commissioners of six districts in Haryana have banned all the social media news platforms operating under their jurisdiction.

A report published in Indian Express on July 12, 2020, states that “‘All the social media news platforms based on WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook, Telegram, YouTube, Instagram, Public App and LinkedIn have come under the ban ordered by the DCs of Sonipat, Kaithal, Charkhi Dadri, Karnal, Narnaul and Bhiwani on the pretext being stated that ‘dissemination of unverified and misleading news from such platforms may disturb tranquillity in the society and may adversely affect the mental health of common man” during the coronavirus pandemic”. 

Representational image.

Last, the ban was imposed by Karnal Deputy Commissioner Mr Nishant Kumar Yadav exercising the powers of District Magistrate and Chairperson of District Disaster Management Authority on July 10  for 15 day. It stated that: “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 YouTube,  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 a bad effect on the mental health of the populace .”

The order further adds, “As of 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 .”

The District Magistrate’s order also states that the violations of these orders are 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.

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 an order on June 26 2020, applicable until 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. This step of banning all the above-stated platforms has peeved the  Journalists’ Union and journalists associated with such platforms and to oppose it, they have given representation to the District Magistrate Karnal and the Chief Minister of Haryana.

The representation submitted on behalf of Haryana Patrakar Sangh by its  President KB Pandit states, “It is very disheartening to know that Karnal’s observant, responsible District administration took the 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 the pandemic outbreak for the people of Karnal. This platform has played a vital role in bridging the gap between the Government and people. Thus instead of a blanket ban on social media, the government should have in the first place thought of regulating social media by bringing out rules and regulations as per process.”

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 Government.”

The journalists of Karnal under the banner of Haryana Patrakar Sangh also met Haryana Chief Minister, Manohar Lal Khattar on July 11, who assured the journalists that policy for the social media will be finalized within 48 hours.

Requesting Chief  Minister of Haryana for a rethought, Haryana Patrakar Sangh President Mr K B Pandit said, “ I hereby also bring to your notice that this pandemic outbreak has already led to financial crunch for many journalists who have lost their jobs and this sudden ban would further worsen the condition.”

When contacted, Mr K B Pandit told the writer of these lines on 13.07.2020, “We had met the Chief Minister on July 11 and he 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, the government should announce the policy, so that the media channel can start their operations ASAP.”

The District Magistrate Karnal has taken the plea for banning the social media platforms that “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 YouTube,  WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook, Telegram, Instagram, Public App, LinkedIn  and others.’

Now the question strikes whether 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 central government. We are against the ban. Indian Journalists Union is against the ban and at the same time, we are also against fake news.”

When there is no policy or guideline of the Central Government or the Haryana State Government to register such platforms on a date, then why are such bans being imposed? Are these bans justified? The question awaits the answer.

It was first published here.

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