Fact check: Did Modi govt hold telecom companies responsible for abusive messages to journalists, as alleged by Scroll?

Government asked the telecom companies to take action against people sending offensive messages

Propaganda website scroll.in published a story titled “Centre holds telecom firms responsible for obscene text messages sent to journalists, seeks action”. It said that the government has sought immediate action against 19 persons who sent obscene messages to journalists Ravish Kumar and Abhisar Sharma. They also shared the story on Twitter with the saying that centre has held Airtel, Vodafone, Jio and others responsible for sending obscene messages to Ravish Kumar and Abhisar Sharma.

The Scroll in the headline and tweet clearly mentions that the telecom companies have been held responsible for obscene messages sent by their customers to journalists. But that is not true, as the government order does not say that telecom networks are responsible for messages sent by users. The order by DoT has been attached in the article, and it is clear that the order by Department of Telecom has ordered the respective telecom operators to take action against the subscribers sending such messages. The order says “you are hereby directed to take immediate action against the customers/subscribers of your network for sending messages as it is also a violation of customer declaration in customer application form”, which was marked to all telecom operators.

The order also notes that as per licensing norms, the onus is also on the telecom operators to ensure that their networks are not used for obscene, malicious and objectionable transmission. It says companies should ensure that their networks are not used for sending offensive messages, but Scroll has misinterpreted this to say companies are held responsible by the government for the specific offensive messages already sent to the specific journalists, as the headline and tweet conveys. Moreover, it is just a reiteration of existing norms and not a new order issued by the government.

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The order also suggested the telecom companies to open dedicated call centres or helpline to receive complaints about offensive messages received by people on the phones.

After the Pulwama attack, several journalists had spread fake news that Kashmiri Muslims students in various places were being attacked by right-wing groups. Such unsubstantiated claims had attracted criticism to them on social media, and some journalists alleged that few people had crossed the line and had sent offensive messages and images to them on social media platforms like Twitter and WhatsApp. Following this, the journalists had called for censorship on social media, and asked the government to take action. Following this, the government asked the telecom companies to take action against the offenders, but that is certainly not holding the companies responsible as Scroll wanted to portray.

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