Fake Memo on Disaster Management Act Says COVID-19 Posts Illegal
As per the Disaster Management Act, there is no provision that mentions the claims being made in the viral message.
A viral message on social media claims that the Disaster Management Act is going to be implemented from "tonight 12 (midnight) onwards". Citing the Act, the message claims that no citizen apart from a government department will be allowed to post any update or share any message related to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
If a citizen posts any message about the pandemic, it will allegedly be a punishable offence.
The message reads, "Mandate To All Residents. 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 Coronavirus and it being punishable offence. Group Admins are requested to post the above update and inform the groups. (sic)"
The message is being widely shared on Twitter and Facebook with the same claim.
Some social media users are also circulating the viral message along with an article published in Live Law with the headline: “Centre Seeks SC Direction That No Media Should Publish COVID-19 News Without First Ascertaining Facts With Govt.”
The Quint received a query on the claim being made in the viral message on its WhatsApp helpline.
MESSAGE FACTUALLY INCORRECT ON SEVERAL LEVELS
As per the Disaster Management Act, there is no provision that mentions that apart from government departments, no other citizen can be allowed to talk, update or share any news related to a disaster.
Also, the central government stated on 24 March itself – when the 21-day lockdown was announced – that the Disaster Management Act was being invoked to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.
Therefore, there is no question of the Act being “implemented from midnight tonight” as claimed in the viral message.
Further, the National Executive Committee of the National Disaster Management Authority, which has the power to issue directions/guidelines relating to the management of a disaster, has not issued any such direction at this point.
WHAT DOES SECTION 54 OF DISASTER MANAGEMENT ACT SAY?
Section 54 in the Disaster Management Act makes it a punishable offence to circulate a false alarm or warning about a disaster or its severity or magnitude.
Therefore, sharing any update or forward, whether on WhatsApp or social media, which is “false” is a criminal offence. However, if you share an opinion which is grounded in fact, then this would not be illegal.
Also, the operation of Section 54 is not a new event, rather has been a possibility ever since 24 March.
ARE THE MESSAGE AND THE LIVE LAW ARTICLE RELATED?
While the viral message is about how no other citizen other than a government department can post coronavirus-related information, the Live Law article which is being quoted in the message is specifically about COVID-19 information being telecast by media outlets.
The article dated 31 March states that the central government had sought direction from the apex court that no media outlet should broadcast or publish any COVID-19 information without verifying the facts.
Live Law had also issued a clarification on Saturday, 4 April, that the article has been attached “out of context” with respect to the viral message.
“The report has no connection with the fake message. It is clear from a bare perusal of the report that it does not convey the news as sought to be spread through the fake message,” the article stated.
SC ON COVID-19 RELATED INFORMATION
The Supreme Court of India on 31 March has passed an order in a case relating to the treatment of migrant workers, in which it has expressed concern about the danger of panic created by fake news in a situation like this.
This order reiterates that Section 54 of the Disaster Management Act can be used to punish those who spread false information.
Even this order does NOT restrict private individuals from sharing news relating to the coronavirus, and only allow the government to do this.
It notes that media organisations must ensure that they publish/refer to the government's official updates on developments about the coronavirus, but even there, the judges have expressly said that they do not want to "interfere with the free discussion about the pandemic".
Further, PIB Fact Check took to Twitter to mention that the message in circulation is false and misleading.
As a result, as long as false news is not being spread, there is no restriction on citizens to share any news or updates about the coronavirus situation. The message is therefore false and misleading.
You can read all our fact-checked stories on coronavirus here.
(The story was updated on 4 April with the clarity on how a false claim is going viral with a legitimate but unrelated Live Law article. The story was also updated on 2 April with PIB’s clarification on the viral message.)
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