The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has given online news publishers and OTT platforms 15 days to furnish details on their compliance with its new digital rules issued in February.
The Centre had written to major social media platforms on Wednesday also, seeking the status of their compliance “as soon as possible”. But WhatsApp moved the Delhi High Court against the rules, while Twitter said it was concerned about the “potential threat” to freedom of expression.
On February 25, the Centre had notified the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, under the Information Technology Act, 2000. The new set of sweeping 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 rules have not only sparked concerns about privacy but also that of censorship of news media.
In its notice released on Wednesday, the Union ministry has asked digital news publishers to provide details including the URL of the website, mobile applications, social media accounts, particulars of the news editors, the company’s identification number and other details, contact information, and details about its grievance redressal mechanism.
The notice added that since the notification of the digital media rules, Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar has held interactions with publishers of online curated content, as well as the publishers of news on digital media.
“The Ministry has also established communication with many digital media publishers, and their associations, regarding the rules and their compliance requirements,” the notice said. “A total of around 60 publishers, and their associations, have also informed the Ministry that they have already initiated the process of formation of self-regulatory bodies under the rules.”
While the ministry held consultations with the Digital News Publishers Association in March, it has not held any such meeting with the Digipub News India Foundation, an association of eleven digital news organisations, according to Medianama.
Scroll.in is among the founding members of the Digipub News India Foundation. The group also comprises Alt News, Article 14, Boomlive, Cobrapost, HW News, Newsclick, Newslaundry, The News Minute, The Quint and The Wire.
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In March, the Editors Guild of India said it had asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Javadekar and Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad to pause the implementation of the new rules to regulate digital media. The association urged the government to consult all the stakeholders in the matter.
In its letter to Modi, the association said the rules will “fundamentally alter” and put “unreasonable restrictions” on digital media. “These rules have been brought in without due consultation with the stakeholders and deepen the worry that freedom of press in India is being seriously compromised,” it said. “The most alarming aspect of these rules is the cumbersome three-tier structure to regulate digital media, with an ‘inter-departmental committee’ at the top, and excessive powers being given to a government officer to block, modify and delete content.”
The Editors Guild said various other provisions can also affect the media at large. In its letter to Javadekar and Prasad, the association acknowledged the challenges created by the digital age and the need for self regulation. But it raised “grave concerns” about the government’s new guidelines.
Petitions have been filed before the Delhi High Court to challenge the Information Technology rules. These have been filed by The Quint, the Foundation for Independent Journalism – a trust that owns digital news portal The Wire, Dhanya Rajendran, the founder and editor-in-chief of The News Minute, and The Wire Founding Editor MK Venu.
In March, the Kerala High Court restrained the Centre from taking coercive action against legal news portal Live Law under the new digital media rules.
Traditional media with online presence
The Centre added that traditional newspaper and television outlets that also have a digital presence must furnish their details as well.
Meanwhile, the News Broadcasters Association on Thursday urged the government to exclude traditional TV news media and their digital platforms from the new IT rules, PTI reported.
“While the NBA appreciates the need for regulations, the traditional news media need not be subjected to and/ or covered under the scope of the IT Rules 2021, since it is already sufficiently regulated by various statutes, laws, guidelines and codes, regulations, and judgements,” the NBA said in a letter to Javadekar.