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India blocks 20 YouTube channels linked to ‘Pak disinformation campaign’

The ministry of information and broadcasting (I&B) on Tuesday said it has ordered the blocking of two Kashmir-related websites and 20 YouTube channels as they “belong to a coordinated disinformation network operating from Pakistan”.

The two separate orders for the channels and website were the first to be issued by the ministry under the new information technology rules notified on February 25 this year.

According to the ministry, they were issued in a “coordinated effort with intelligence agencies”.

“The channels were used to post divisive content in a coordinated manner on topics like Kashmir, Indian Army, minority communities in India, Ram Mandir, (the late CDS) General Bipin Rawat, etc,” the ministry said in a statement.

Among the 20 YouTube channels ordered to be blocked are those launched by The Naya Pakistan Group (NPG), operating from Pakistan, which has a network of YouTube channels and a combined subscriber base of at least 3.5 million. Their videos have had over 550 million views, the ministry said.

“Some of the YouTube channels of the NPG were being operated by anchors of Pakistani news channels,” it added.

The 20 channels include The Punch Line, International Web News, Khalsa TV, The Naked Truth, News 24, 48 news, Fictional Historical Facts, Punjab Viral, Naya Pakistan Global and Cover Story.

Besides the channels, the Kashmir Global and Kashmir Watch websites were ordered to be blocked in their entirety.

Speaking to reporters, I&B minister Anurag Thakur said an inquiry was conducted to assess the attempts to spread anti-India content from across the border. “These channels and web portals were in violation of the law,” he said. “Strict action has been taken against websites which seek to promote Pakistan’s agenda and prevent them from working against India.”

The statement issued by the ministry also shared screenshots and instances of fake news that were being put out by these YouTube channels.

According to the government, The Punch Line claimed in one report that 20 Indian Army generals were killed at a training facility in Kashmir by “Kashmir mujaheddin”. Another report in the same channel claimed Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has decided to build a mosque in place of Ram Mandir in Ayodhya. A third example listed a report in Naya Pakistan Global channel that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has sent his army to Ayodhya.

The two orders to block the YouTube channels and websites were issued by information and broadcasting secretary Apurva Chandra, invoking his emergency powers under the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules notified earlier this year.

“And whereas, after having gone through the information published by the aforementioned websites, I am satisfied that information posted on the above-mentioned websites is detrimental to the sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, and security of the state, and therefore falls within the ambit of section 69(A) of the IT Act,” Chandra said in his interim order to the department of telecom.

This is the first time that the I&B ministry has invoked its powers under the new IT rules.

Earlier, orders to block websites could only be issued by the ministry of electronics and information technology or the department of telecom under the IT Act and the Indian Telegraph Rules, 1951.

The new rules, which introduced an ethics code for digital media, required the appointment of grievance redressal officers, the creation of a three-tier mechanism for grievance redressal with an inter-ministerial committee at its apex , and defined the process to be followed by the I&B ministry on dealing with content that violates the code.

The interim order by Chandra will be placed in front of the inter-departmental committee for review. The inter-departmental committee forms the apex of the three-tier redressal mechanism, which includes a self-regulatory mechanism followed by regulation by industry bodies.

The committee, in a first, also has members from the industry body — one member each from the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry and Confederation of Indian Industry, one member from the Bar Council of India and a member from the Press Council of India.

Besides these, the committee also has members from ministries, including those from the ministries of women and child development, law and justice, home affairs, electronics and information technology, external affairs and defence.

The latest IT rules have been challenged in court by several digital news media outfits, including LiveLaw and TheWire.

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Desk Team