Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar on Thursday held a meeting with members of the Digital News Publishers Association amid criticism for not consulting stakeholders before bringing in the new Information Technology rules.

According to a statement from the I&B ministry, representatives from India Today, Dainik Bhaskar, Hindustan Times, Indian Express, Times of India, ABP, Eenadu, Dainik Jagran, and Lokmat were among those who attended the meeting. Independent digital news organisations like The Wire and The News Minute, who have challenged the rules to regulate digital news before the Delhi High Court, were not invited for the discussion.

The statement said the traditional media organisations “welcomed” the new rules. In a tweet, Javadekar also reiterated the same, adding that the industry representatives offered him few suggestions too.

The minister said the new guidelines placed certain responsibilities on digital news publishers, including adherence to Code of Ethics such as the norms of journalistic conduct framed by the Press Council of India and the Programme Code under the Cable Television Network Act.

Representatives of media organisations present at the meeting, however, informed him that they already follow the regulatory protocol issued by the Press Council Act and the Cable Television Network Act for “a very long time”. According to the statement, “they felt that they should be treated differently than those news publishers who are only on the digital platform”.

The Union minister, as per the statement, “stated that print media and TV channels have digital versions whose content is almost the same as that on the traditional platforms. However, there are contents which appear exclusively on the digital platform. This apart there are several entities which are only on the digital platform. Accordingly, the rules seek to cover the news on digital media so as to bring them at par with the traditional media.”

IT rules

On February 25, the Centre notified the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, under the Information Technology Act, 2000. The rules are framed to regulate social media companies, streaming and digital news content, virtually bringing them, for the first time, under the ambit of government supervision.

Online platforms will now have to be much more responsive to complaints about posts on their networks, including giving the government details about the “originator” of content – effectively breaking end-to-end encryption – as well as setting up verification systems that could have a major impact on individual privacy.

The new rules are “palpably illegal” in seeking control to regulate digital news media when the parent Information Technology Act nowhere provides for such a remit, the petition before Delhi High Court said. “The same has profound and serious harms for digital news media such as the petitioners and destructive of their rights,” it added.