Fake News and FIR

Dr. Asangba Tzüdir

Under Section 154 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, an FIR relating to the commission of a cognizable offence is recorded and based on which the investigation is commenced. The condition which is sine qua non or essential for recording a First Information Report is that there must be information and that information must disclose a cognizable offence. It is, therefore, manifestly clear that if any information disclosing a cognizable offence is laid before an officer-in-charge of a police station satisfying the requirements of Section 154 the said police officer has no other option except to register a case on the basis of such information.

There are two primary objectives of filing an FIR. For the informant it is to set the criminal law in motion, while for the police or the investigating authorities it is to obtain information about the alleged criminal activity so as to be able to take suitable steps for tracing and bringing to book the guilty party.

However, FIR is not substantive evidence, which means that it is not evidence of the facts which it mentions, yet its importance lies in giving or conveying the earliest information regarding the occurrence and one that cannot be doubted. Though the FIR is not a substantive piece of evidence, it can be used to corroborate the statement of the maker under Section 157 of the Evidence Act or to contradict the maker thereof under Section 145 of the Evidence Act, etc.

Coming to the issue of fake news which has become a tool to misinform and create propaganda among the people with different end agendas, FIR has become a ‘necessary’ tool to clear the air of the news and information being fake. The issue and intensity of fake news is such that it polarises issues on the lines of sensitive aspects like culture, religion politics etc in a diverse country like India. In early 2017, a gruesome video of a young girl being lynched by an angry mob was spread rapidly through WatsApp. The text claimed that a Hindu girl in Andhra Pradesh was being punished for refusing to wear a Burqa after marrying a Muslim man. A fact-checking website, noticed that the people in the video did not look like Indian and in actuality it was found to be a mob lynching video from Guatemala. Last month the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) had to approach the Delhi police in connection with circulation of fake news about question paper leak following which an FIR was registered so that “sanctity of examination is not adversely affected.” The board also had to appeal to the students and parents to remain calm and vigilant towards such unsolicited situations.

Within the domain of politics fake news have been doing its share of rounds, and especially with elections happening, one needs to be vigilant about its employment to either gain or discredit votes. A commentary by Snigdha Poonam and Samarth Bansal in the Atlantic is of the view that “fake news is endangering India’s election” and that “the country’s political parties are spreading misinformation about their opponents to gain votes. It’s working.”

A candidate for the by-election in Nagaland was ‘forced’ to file an FIR on the grounds of defamation and hampering both himself and the party in the current Assembly Constituency election while countering the claims of a ‘breaking news’ that was shared in WatsApp saying that the candidate had “officially announced that he don’t need vote.” In the lead up to the election memes and satires were circulated in social media which went out of proportion and based on the situation the FIR had to be lodged and with police intervention the issue was ‘settled amicably.’ It (fake news) shouldn’t have happened at the first place.

While some commented that such propaganda was trivial considering the physical threat and abuse which is part of election, there were others rationalizing the issue saying that it was ‘ignored’ initially until negative developments ensued based on the fake message forcing the candidate to file the FIR. In this age of information, the need of the people is not just about being well informed but also knowing how to deal and approach such issues of fake news. The nature of fake news and the social media through which such news and information are propagated is such that over time, it creates a kind of mentality and perception and it ends up not just the dissemination of a fake information but leads to fuelling the situation that often calls for adopting legal measures like FIR to douse the situation as well as to clear the air of defamation, propaganda etc.

The takeaway is that the issue is not about being intolerant to something that can be considered silly though a cognizable offence but for a society that is still learning the hard way of ‘being informed’ rationally and intellectually, fake news and FIR are things that the society will live with until the people learn that every fake news do not need an FIR to counter it, or better still… a fake news is not required to push certain end agendas.

(Dr. Asangba Tzudir contributes a weekly guest editorial to The Morung Express. Comments can be mailed to asangtz@gmail.com.)