The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting on Wednesday clarified that the powers under the new rules for digital media publications are not delegated to states, district magistrates or police commissioners.

The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, under the Information Technology Act, 2000, were notified on February 25.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, the ministry again clarified the provisions of the rules that relate to the publishers of digital news and current affairs as well as the publishers of online curated content. The ministry, in its letter to the chief secretaries to state governments and Union Territory administrations, said that the rules are based on a Code of Ethics.

“The rules require a three-level grievance redressal mechanism consisting of the publisher [Level-1], self-regulating body constituted by the publishers [Level-II] and an Oversight Mechanism of the Government [Level III], with time-bound grievance disposal mechanism,” it said.

The ministry said that the rules finally require the publishers to furnish information to the government and also the periodical disclosure of information regarding grievance redressal in the public domain.

The statement came two days after the Manipur government, ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party, issued a notice to a journalist, Paojel Chaoba, under the new digital rules. The notice, according to Chaoba, was issued for an online discussion that was held and uploaded on the Facebook page of the organisation, The Frontier Manipur, on February 28. The discussion was on the new rules for digital media platforms, and titled “Media Under Siege: Are Journalists Walking a Tight Rope”.

However, on Tuesday, Imphal West District Magistrate Naorem Praveen Singh, who issued the notice, told that it was withdrawn after “considering all the technicalities”.

The notice was likely withdrawn after Union Information and Broadcasting Secretary Amit Khare wrote to the Manipur Chief Secretary Rajesh Kumar. Khare stated that Part III of the new rules, under which the district magistrate issued the notice, are to be administered only by the Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.

New rules for digital media

The government issued the new set of sweeping rules on February 25 to regulate social media companies, streaming and digital news content that will virtually bring these platforms, for the first time, under the ambit of government supervision.

Last week, the Internet Freedom Foundation had said that the new rules could likely mean “government oversight and more censorship”. Meanwhile, DigiPub, an 11-member digital-only news association, has written to the Centre suggesting that the rules seem to “go against the fundamental principle of news and its role in a democracy”.

The Congress also criticised the new social media rules, saying they were “non-statutory” guidelines that the government was attempting to bring without the Parliament’s assent.