Disaster Management Act Does Not Restrict News Reports On COVID-19

A viral WhatsApp forward misquotes a news report by LiveLaw and states that the reporting on coronavirus, except by the government, is banned under the Disaster Management Act

A viral message, claiming that the Disaster Management Act (DMA) has been implemented across the country, according to which nobody except the government can update and post coronavirus related information on social media, is false. The viral message further warns WhatsApp group admins to take note of this development, and to propagate the same.

The message attempts to add credibility to its content by misquoting and misinterpreting an article by legal news website LiveLaw. The message carries LiveLaw's link of the story.

According to LiveLaw's report filed on March 31, the Central government had sought a direction from the Supreme Court to prohibit the publication of COVID-19 related news by news media, unless the facts are ascertained by the mechanism established by the government. But it is important to note that the Supreme Court refused to give any such directive in favour of the government.

The misleading viral message states:

"Dear All,
Mandate for All:

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 punishable offence.

Group Admins are requested to post the above update and inform the groups.
Please adhere this strictly."

Also Read: False: US, UK Asked PM Modi To Lead 18-Nation Coronavirus Task Force

The viral message started doing the rounds, a week after union home secretary Ajay Bhalla warned of strict action under the Disaster Management Act, against those spreading rumours. Bhalla was quoted by news agency ANI as saying that 'FIR will be registered against those involved in spreading rumours and action will be taken under the provisions of the DMA.'

BOOM received the message on its WhatsApp helpline (7700906111).

Further, BOOM used relevant keywords to find this message being shared by several users on Twitter.

Fact Check

BOOM found that the report filed by LiveLaw does not mention the National Disaster Management Act coming into force in the country, that would allow banning the dissemination of coronavirus linked information under any of the Act's provisions.

Instead, the legal website had reported court proceedings where the central government had cited the detrimental role that misinformation can play and the panic it can create in the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The government through a petition filed by Bhalla, sought that the SC give a direction that required print, online and electronic media not to publish or disseminate anything without ascertaining facts with the government.

Also Read: No, The Bombay HC Has Not Extended Maharashtra Lockdown Till April 30

The excerpt of the petition, containing the reference to the Disaster Management Act states:

It is submitted that such an act of creating panic is also a criminal offence under the Disaster Management Act, 2005. However, an appropriate direction from this Hon'ble Court would protect the country from any potential and inevitable consequence resulting from a false alarm having the potential of creating panic in a section of the society.

This section does not impose or invoke any provision of the Act, as being claimed by the message. The petition can be read here through LiveLaw. The SC disallowed this petition, saying that it could not inhibit free discussion around the pandemic, but directed the media to refer to official versions of information available, as reported by the Committee for Protecting Journalists.

Even the government, through the Press Information Bureau, has clarified that there is no restriction on reporting, or discussing on the novel coronavirus outbreak. Rather, messages/posts leading to panic is prohibited.

LiveLaw clarifies

LiveLaw, whose reporting has been misquoted has also clarified and called out this misleading message.

The website has written a separate article clarifying that their report does not corroborate the content of the message in any way. "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 clarification writes.

This story can be read here.

The coronavirus outbreak was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation on March 11. In India, more than 3,000 cases have been confirmed and with 77 confirmed deaths as on April 5.

Also Read: Coronavirus LIVE Update: India Reports 3374 Cases

Claim Review :   The government has banned sharing updates or forwards around the coronavirus
Claimed By :  Various users of social media
Fact Check :  False
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