Centre for Communication Governance at NLU delhi
Indian Legislation: Primary and Secondary

The Indian Penal Code, 1860 (‘IPC’)

Section 505(1)(b) – often used to punish dissemination of fake news – prohibits making, publishing or circulating any statement, rumour or report which may cause fear or alarm to the public, or to any section of the public, punishment for which may extend up to 3 years with/without fine. Other provisions used to prosecute the dissemination of misinformation/disinformation include Sections 124A (Sedition), 153A (promoting enmity between different groups), 292 (Sale of obscene books), 295A (deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings) and 499 (Defamation). Curiously, Section 188, a general provision which punishes the disobedience of an order duly promulgated by a public servant, was reportedly used  along with Section 144 of the CrPC to curb the spread of fake news during COVID-19.

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The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973

Section 144 is a broadly worded provision that empowers the District Magistrate to control a situation of emergency in the area by issuing any such orders as he deems fit. During COVID-19, orders were reportedly issued under this provision to inter alia curb the spread of fake news.

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Cable Television Network Rules, 1994

The Rules are established in furtherance of the Cable Television Network Act, 1995 and define the Programme Code and Advertising Code under Rules 6 and 7 respectively. As per Rule 6(1), no programme is permissible which “contains anything obscene, defamatory, deliberate, false and suggestive innuendos and half-truths”. Further, among many requirements, Rule 7 states that no advertisement shall “contain references which are likely to lead the public to infer that the product advertised or any of its ingredients has some special or miraculous or supernatural property or quality, which is difficult of being proved”. 

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The Information Technology Act, 2000 (‘IT Act’)

Section 69A allows the Central Government to direct an intermediary to block public access to online information on the basis of certain grounds, including for the prevention of a cognizable offence. Pertinently, S.505(1)(b) of the IPC contains a cognizable offence.

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Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines) Rules, 2011

The Intermediary Guidelines aim at regulating the accountability as well as immunities available to intermediary platforms for the content they host. Rule 3(2) requires that the rules, policies and other documents intermediaries publish must inform users to not “host, display, upload, modify, publish, transmit, update or share information” that, inter alia, “deceives or misleads the addressee about the origin of such messages or communicates any information which is grossly offensive or menacing in nature” or that “impersonate[s] another person”.

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