Over 100 journalists and professionals wrote a letter to Information and Broadcasting Minister Smriti Irani on Tuesday, against the ministry’s decision to constitute a committee to frame regulations for online media and digital news websites. The journalists said that regulating media on the internet through licensing and content regulation “could have a drastic impact on a medium that is widely credited with making the media and information landscape more open and democratic across the world.”

The letter was signed by journalists including Newslaundry co-founder Madhu Trehan, senior editor Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, Scroll.in editor Naresh Fernandes, The Wire’s MK Venu, The News Minute editor Dhanya Rajendran, Seema Mustafa from The Citizen, and Ritu Kapur from The Quint.

“Internet based media, by its very nature, promotes broader democratic values globally and cannot be dealt with in the way national governments try to regulate or control traditional media,” The Wire’s Founding Editor MK Venu said. “Internet based media and global media aggregators like Facebook, Google have changed the content and distribution landscape in ways that national governments cannot easily control. Nor should they try to. It is a free democratic space and must remain as such.”

Independent journalist Geeta Seshu expressed disappointment at the Centre’s attempt to regulate digital media, and said the committee of government officials do not represent media practitioners. “Its mandate to regulate the dissemination of information smacks of the most alarming attempts to censor a burgeoning medium,” she added.

Newslaundry co-founder Madhu Trehan said the internet was the most important invention since the printing press, and that any attempts to regulate it needed to be “consultative”.

Seema Mustafa, founder editor of The Citizen, said, “The attempt to control the internet comes from classic insecurity associated with governments fearful of dissent.” She added that the government could use regulation to suppress opinions critical of it.

Raghav Bahl, founder of Network18 and Quintillion Media, urged the government to study approaches taken by other democracies in dealing with problematic online content. “Any hasty action by the government will likely result in overreach,” he added.