Union Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on Thursday said that the Centre was not against the use of social media, but its abuse and misuse, PTI reported. He made the remark at a conclave, while responding to a question on the Centre’s rules to regulate social media, digital news platforms and streaming services.

Prasad, while speaking at the Times Network’s India Economic Conclave, said that the government served as the voice of people who were being victimised on social media. “You must have grievance redressal mechanisms so that if any one has a complaint then that complaint can be registered there,” the minister said.

Prasad claimed that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had been the “biggest victim” of a false campaign on social media. “We welcome dissent,” the minister added. “We welcome criticism and that criticism can extend to the prime minister, to all the ministers and to all the government.”

The minister said that India was a tolerant country and would remain so, Reuters reported. “But the limits of tolerance and standards of tolerance should not be judged on the creating freedom or abuse of a particular producer of an OTT [over-the-top] platform,” he added.

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IT rules

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

The government had proposed a three-tier mechanism for the platforms to address content-related matters. The first layer would be officials appointed by these companies. The second- would be a self-regulatory body to address complaints. The third tier would be a government-appointed panel.

Digital media websites have argued that the new rules seek to regulate online news by imposing government oversight and a vaguely worded “code of ethics”.

The Foundation for Independent Journalism, a trust that owns digital news portal The Wire, the portal’s Founding Editor MK Venu and Dhanya Rajendran, the founder and editor-in-chief of The News Minute, have moved the Delhi High Court against the Centre’s rules.

On March 9, the court issued a notice to the Centre on the petition. The matter is scheduled to be heard on April 16.

The Editors Guild of India had also criticised the digital media regulations, saying that they will “fundamentally alter” online news platforms and put “unreasonable restrictions” on them.

On March 5, the Supreme Court noted that the rules for streaming platforms “lacked teeth” as there was no provision to punish violators. It made the observation while granting interim protection from arrest to Amazon Prime Video’s India Content Head Aparna Purohit in the first information report filed against her in connection with the web series Tandav.