Punjab & Haryana HC issues notice to Sonepat Magistrate over ban on emanating news via social media

A Stay on the operation of “all social media platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, Whatsapp, Instagram, Telegram, Twitter, Telegram etc being used as news channels” was issued  on June 16. The District Magistrate of Sonepat, Shyam Lal Poonia, acting as the Chairman of the District Disaster Management Authority,had issued the executive order. 

Justifying the order, he had relied on  the Supreme Court’s note of caution on the spread of fake news passed in Alakh Alok Srivastava V. UoI on May 31st. The social media platforms are not registered with the Union Ministry of Information and broadcasting or the State Directorate of Information and Public Relations. Legal action against fake news is permitted under sections 188 and 505(1) of the IPC, section 54 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005 and sections 1 and 2 of the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1957.

The petitioner, a law student, Ankit Nain had filed a plea before the high court challenging the order being violative of journalistic freedom guaranteed under Art. 19 (1)(a) of the Constitution. The petition also states that the order does not differentiate between true or false news and implies plenary action for any kind of information posted on social media. It has also been pointed out that there is no defined mechanism to register the apps with the competent authorities.

Further, the order has been termed as vague and emphasis has also been placed on the Supreme Court’s complete opinion in the said case, that had also included the Apex Court’s desire to not interfere with the free discussion about the epidemic.

Justice HS Madan has heard the plea and issued a notice to the state government, giving it time until the next hearing, scheduled on August 14, to reply to the same.

Ankit Nain v. State of Haryana and Anr.

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