“Right To Know Is Integral Part Of Article 19…But, Fake News Has Tendency To Influence This Choice In Negative Manner : Plea In Supreme Court”

Supreme Court: Suspicion, However Strong, cannot take the place of Proof

In present petition, it was respectfully submitted by Ashwini kumar Upadhyay filed Special Leave Petition from order of Delhi High Court, stating that, free and fair elections, which is a basic dictum of democracy, level playing field is paramount and this cannot be achieved without weeding out fake social media accounts.

Brief facts:

Ashwini kumar Upadhyay filed a special leave petition against the impugned final judgment and order dated 09.12.2019 in WP(C) 11394/2019 passed by the High Court of Delhi at New Delhi. In synopsis, the petitioner submitted that  the High Court has failed to appreciate that presently total number of twitter handles in India are around 35 million and total number of Facebook accounts are 350 million and experts says that around 10% twitter handles (3.5 million) and 10% Facebook accounts (35 million) are duplicate/bogus/fake[1]. It further states that there are hundreds of fake twitter handles and bogus Facebook accounts in the name of eminent peoples and high dignitaries which including the Hon’ble President of India, Vice President of India, Prime Ministers of India, Chief Ministers, Cabinet Ministers, Chief Justice of India and the Judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts, which has not been taken into account by the court. The common man relies upon the messages published from these twitter handles and facebook accounts, which use real photographs of the constitutional authorities and eminent citizens[2].

Background:

The petitioner further states that fake accounts are used to promote casteism, communalism, regionalism, linguism, radicalism and separatism, which endanger fraternity, unity and national integration. Thus fake news is the root cause of many riots including the recent riots in Delhi, but it went unheeded by the Delhi High Court. The petitioner further submits that political parties use account for self-promotion, image building and to malign the image of opposite party and candidate. It also used by many people for personal interests such as gaining financial income from one person and blackmailing his opponents.

The petitioner further submits that Right to know is an integral part of Article 19 and exposure to accurate information is a necessity for electors to make an informed choice, but, fake news has tendency to influence this choice in a negative manner. The petitioner went on to argue that publication of fake news involves use of black money, under-reporting of election expenses and indulging in other kinds of malpractices. The petitioner while stating the importance of free and fair election states that:

“Thus, in order to have free and fair elections, which is a basic dictum of democracy, level playing field is paramount and this cannot be achieved without weeding out fake social media accounts.[3]

The petitioner contends that since there is gap, executive should ascertain the feasibility of amending the IPC, RPA and IT Act to provide for publishing or abetting the publication of fake news and paid news so as to further or prejudice prospects of any candidate, as an electoral offence under Chapter III, Part VII of the RPA, 1951, with punishment of a minimum of 2 years of imprisonment. But executive failed to take any action in this regard.  It went on to plead that, this Hon’ble Court is the only hope for citizens and may issue a writ, order or direction to curtail paid news and fake news to ensure free and fair election in spirit of Article 324 of the Constitution of India.

The petitioner submits that in order to achieve, free and fair election, it is necessary to remove corrupt practice of black money and its influences are to be removed from electoral process. The petition provide statistics as follows:

“According to study conducted by the Election Commission of India, during the State Assembly elections held between 2011-2013, there were 1987 cases wherein notices for paid and fake news were issued to contesting candidates and 1727 cases wherein the practice of paid and fake news being prevalent was confirmed by the District Level Committees appointed by the ECI to control paid and fake news.”

The phenomenon of ‘paid news’ and its equivalent, political advertising being presented as news are issues that cannot be treated separately. It makes reference to report of the Press Council of India on paid news, wherein it had recommended that Paid News and Fake News should be declared to be corrupt practice. General public attaches great value to the news reports, but paid news and fake news only masquerades as news and in actuality, are advertisements under the garb of news items. Thus, they totally mislead the electors.

The heart of India’s democratic system witnesses regular elections with the participation of the largest electorate in the world. In order to safeguard the values of free and fair elections, it is important to have a just and unbiased electoral process with greater participation. Trust and confidence of citizens in electoral system can be affected if the challenges faced by the democracy remain unattended. Thus Law Commission of India recommends certain changes that need to be taken up expeditiously to amend certain provisions of law, it includes several electoral proposals to remove the glaring lacunae in the law, which are put in its 244th and 255th Report have remained unresolved. Thus it is necessary to weed fake news.

Key features:

Questions of law:

The petition involve following questions of law:

a) Whether the High Court has not failed to appreciate that presently total number of twitter handles in India are around 35 million and total number of Facebook accounts are 350 million and around 10% twitter handles (3.5 million) and 10% Facebook accounts (35 million) are duplicate/bogus/fake.

b) Whether the High Court has not failed to appreciate that there are hundreds of fake twitter handles and bogus Facebook accounts in the name of eminent peoples and high dignitaries including the Hon’ble President of India, Vice President of India, Prime Ministers, Chief Ministers, Cabinet Ministers, Chief Justice of India and the Judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts.

c) Whether the High Court has not failed to appreciate that fake news is theroot cause of many riots including the recent riots in Delhi. Fake accounts are used to promote casteism, communalism, regionalism, linguism, radicalism and separatism, which endanger fraternity, unity and national integration.

d) Whether the High Court has not failed to appreciate that Political parties and candidates use fake social media accounts for self-promotion and image building and to tarnish the image of opponent political parties and contesting candidates, especially during the elections.

e) Whether the High Court has not failed to appreciate that many people use fake twitter handles and Facebook accounts for personal interests such as gaining financial income from one person and blackmailing his opponents.

f) Whether the High Court has not failed to appreciate that right to know is integral part of Article 19 and exposure to accurate information is a necessity for electors to make an informed choice, but, fake news has tendency to influence this choice in negative manner.

Further the petitioner states the ground of filing the petition and prayers of the petitioner, which are as follows:

It is therefore, respectfully prayed that this Hon’ble Court may be pleased to:

a) Grant Special Leave to Appeal against impugned final judgment and order dated 09.12.2019 in WP(C) 11394/2019 passed by the High Court of Delhi; and

b) Pass such further order(s) or direction(s) as this Hon’ble Court may deem fit and proper in facts and circumstance of the case.

Edited by Pragash Boopal

Approved & Published – Sakshi Raje

Reference

[1]https://thefederal.com/news/plea-in-sc-seeks-to-weed-out-fake-social-media-accounts-that-were-root-cause-of-riots/

[2]https://www.livelaw.in/top-stories/fake-news-root-cause-of-riots-plea-in-sc-seeks-social-media-aadhaar-linkage-to-remove-fake-accounts-153464

[3]https://drive.google.com/viewerng/viewer?url=https://www.livelaw.in/pdf_upload/pdf_upload-370884.pdf

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