A Fact Check Unit That is Unconstitutional


02:34 AM

1 min read
A Fact Check Unit That is Unconstitutional Blog Image

Why in News?

  • Recently, the Government of Tamil Nadu has taken a proactive step by issuing an official order to establish a Fact Check Unit.
  • The primary objective of this unit is to rigorously examine and verify the accuracy of information disseminated across various media platforms concerning the actions and policies of the Government of Tamil Nadu.
  • This government order (GO) is violative of several fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution of India, and is unconstitutionally vague and arbitrary.

Key Highlights of Tamil Nadu Fact Check Unit

  • Purpose and Scope: The primary purpose of the fact-checking unit is to verify the accuracy of information related to announcements, policies, schemes, guidelines, and initiatives of the Government of Tamil Nadu.
  • Operative Details
    • The fact-checking unit is empowered to scrutinise social media posts and articles.
    • It can take Suo Motu cognizance (initiate action on its own) or respond to complaints received from any source.
    • The unit employs various fact-checking tools and verifies information through official government sources, including websites, press releases, and government social media accounts.
  • Process of Fact-Checking
    • Upon identifying complaints, the fact-checking unit will conduct research and categorise the information into actionable and non-actionable pools.
    • Thereafter, complaints falling under the actionable category will be forwarded to the relevant authorities to initiate legal action.
  • Dissemination of Verified Information
    • Once the authenticity of information is verified from government-approved sources, the fact-checking unit will disseminate creative content through its social media platforms.
    • The goal is not only to rectify misinformation but also to create awareness among the public about the importance of relying on accurate sources of information.

Significance of Tamil Nadu Fact Check Unit

  • Authority and Accountability
    • The fact-checking unit will operate with the authority to initiate legal action, and indicates a serious commitment to combating misinformation.
    • By specifying the use of government-approved sources, the unit will strive to ensure accountability and reliability in the fact-checking process.
  • Transparency and Communication
    • The inclusion of Annexure III in the Government Order provides more details on the unit's functioning, promoting transparency.
    • The fact-checking unit utilises social media platforms not only for corrective measures but also for preventive communication, aiming to educate the public on discerning accurate information.

Fundamental Problems Associated With Tamil Nadu FCU

  • In Violation of Settled Principles (Fundamental Rights)
    • TN’s FCU has a chilling effect on the freedom of speech and expression, a fundamental right guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.
    • This can only be reasonably restricted under Article 19(2) in the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India, security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states, etc.
    • More importantly, such restriction under Article 19(2) can only be by way of a law, which, as held by the Supreme Court of India, must be legislation passed by the State.
    • Thus, it is settled law that a GO cannot impose restrictions on the freedom of speech and expression.
    • It is also important to understand that public interest is not a ground under Article 19(2) to restrict the freedom of speech and expression.
  • Unconstitutionally Vague and Arbitrary
    • A close analysis reveals that the proposed FCU lacks the clarity in the GO, specifically where it is mentioned "information related to the Government of Tamil Nadu."
    • This vagueness makes the GO unconstitutional and arbitrary, questioning whether various forms of expression, such as economic critiques or investigative journalism, would fall under the jurisdiction of the fact-check unit.
  • Entails Procedural Illegalities
    • The GO lacks provision for an opportunity of hearing for individuals whose posts are subject to fact-checking.
    • The government's role has been defined as the judge, jury, and executioner without due process which is a violation of fair procedure.
  • Misalignment of GO with Stated Objectives
    • The introductory paragraph of the GO states that the emergence of social media and its related issues of mis/disinformation, fake news, and hate speech have necessitated the creation of the fact check unit by the State government.
    • This is only partly true because hate speech has no direct nexus with information related to the Government of Tamil Nadu, which is the focus of the fact check unit.
    • Indeed, mis/disinformation and fake news are a challenge for democracies throughout the world.
      • This was most evident during the U.S. presidential election of 2016, the Brexit referendum, and the Colombian referendum of 2016.
      • The situation is no different in India wherein politicians and TV anchors peddle mis/disinformation with no remorse.

Way Forward

  • The GO issued by the Government of Tamil Nadu is not a solution to curb mis/disinformation and fake news.
  • Consultations need to be held with all stakeholders including the public and intermediaries such as Facebook, X, and Google.
    • For instance, in Europe, the European Commission issued the Code of Practice on Disinformation on September 26, 2018, after a broad consultative process and opinion poll covering all member States.
  • These measures must include support for an independent network of fact-checkers and promoting media literacy.


  • The fact-checking unit by the Government of Tamil Nadu does not align with the principles of the constitution.
  • Misinformation is a challenge that all governments are fighting and to combat misinformation there is a need for a comprehensive and proactive strategy rather than a GO that has the potential to curtail the fundamental right of citizens.

Q1) What is Article 19 (1) (a) of the constitution?

According to Article 19(1)(a) all citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression. This implies that all citizens have the right to express their views and opinions freely. This includes not only words of mouth, but also a speech by way of writings, pictures, movies, banners, etc.

Q2) What are reasonable restrictions on fundamental rights?

Reasonable restrictions as outlined in Article 19(2) of the Constitution allows for restrictions in the interests of the security and sovereignty of India, friendly relations with Foreign States, public order, decency or morality in the relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.

Source: The Hindu