A message that barring the government no one can share COVID-19 related updates, and doing so is a punishable offence has gone viral.

Fake There is no ban on sharing or forwarding COVID-19 updates
Delve Fake news Saturday, April 04, 2020 - 18:49

A viral message is doing rounds claiming that other than the government, no one else, particularly citizens are allowed to post any update or share any forwards related to the coronavirus, and that it is a punishable offence to do so. 

“Tonight 12 (midnight) onwards Disaster Management Act has been implemented across the country. According to this update, apart from the Govt department no other citizen is allowed to post any update or share any forward related to Corona virus and it being a punishable offence.  Group Admins are requested to post the above update and inform the groups. Please adhere this strictly,” (sic) reads the message.

To give credibility to the false message, a news link from the website LiveLaw .in titled “Centre Seeks SC Direction That No Media Should Publish COVID-19 News Without First Ascertaining Facts With Govt” has been attached.

However, there is no such order and the message is explicitly false. While posting fake news and forwarding panic-inducing messages are definitely an offence under the Disaster Management Act of 2005 and IT Act, there is no ban on individuals posting news relating to coronavirus. Livelaw has also published a new link, debunking the fake news that's being circulated using their link. 

What the LiveLaw.in story is about?

On March 31, while responding to a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) regarding the measures taken up by the Union government to control the coronavirus pandemic and the welfare measures for migrant workers, Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla sought the intervention of the Supreme Court asking them to issue directions against the media. The government, in a bid to control the narrative, wanted media to publish news pertaining to coronavirus only with the government version.

“In an unprecedented situation of this nature, any deliberate or unintended fake or inaccurate reporting either in electronic, print, social media or web portals has a serious and inevitable potential of causing panic in large sections of the society," the government said.

“In the largest interest of justice that when this court has taken cognizance, this court is pleased to issue a direction that no electronic/print media/web portal or social media shall print/publish or telecast anything without first ascertaining the true factual position from the separate mechanism provided by the Central government.” the government said in its affidavit.     

However, after hearing the plea, the apex court held the right to free discussion. However, the bench headed by Chief Justice SA Bobde directed the media to refer to and publish the official version of the developments in order to avoid inaccuracies and large-scale panic, besides asking the government to publish daily bulletins on COVID-19 developments. 

“We do not intend to interfere with the free discussion about the pandemic, but direct the media to refer to and publish the official version about the developments,” the court ordered. 

Responding to the government's stand and the court's directive to 'publish official version', Editors Guild of India, the media watchdog said that they were “deeply perturbed” over it.

“Government told the Supreme Court that mass movement of migrant labourers in the wake of the lockdown was due to falsified media reports. This led the apex court to observe that while it didn't want to inhibit the debate on the pandemic in any way, the media should refer to and publish the official version of the developments pertaining to the coronavirus pandemic. The Guild would state in all humility that it holds the court in the highest respect, but finds this advice gratuitous and unnecessary. Blaming the media at this juncture can only undermine the current work being done by it under trying circumstances. Such charges can also obstruct in the process of dissemination of news during an unprecedented crisis facing the country. No democracy anywhere in the world fighting the pandemic by gagging its media,” the EGI said. 

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