News broadcasters set hopes on exclusion from IT rules as they await MIB nod

While NBA is contemplating a writ if the verdict is not in favour of the broadcasters, NBF has gone one step ahead and filed an RTI seeking details into the creation of the new guidelines

e4m by Javed Farooqui
Updated: Jun 2, 2021 9:13 AM

Having petitioned the ministry of information and broadcasting (MIB) to be excluded from complying with the intermediary guidelines, the news broadcasters are hoping that the ministry may take a stance in their favour. According to a source close to the development, the MIB is soon to issue a clarification on the subject soon. 

The source further stated that the 15-day deadline to furnish information might also get extended. "The ministry is seized of the matter and is expected to issue a clarification soon. They might also extend the 15-day deadline for providing details," the source stated.

The MIB had issued a notice to digital media publishers to furnish information like basic details, entity details, contact information and grievance redressal mechanism under the new IT rules within 15 days. 

Digital news publishers, which also publish/telecast news on traditional media (TV and newspaper), other digital news publishers, and publishers of online curated content (OTT platforms) have been provided separate formats to furnish the information.

Both News Broadcasters Association (NBA) and News Broadcasters Federation (NBF) have urged the ministry to exclude traditional news broadcasters from coming under the purview of the new IT Rules. 

As per the new rules, the publishers of news on digital media are required to observe Norms of Journalistic Conduct of the Press Council of India and the Programme Code under the Cable Television Networks Regulation Act.

The news broadcasters contend that keeping online platforms owned by news broadcasters within the purview of the IT rules will lead to duplication of the adjudicatory and redressal mechanism thereby resulting in the creation of parallel adjudicatory bodies.

"We have written to the MIB to exclude news channel owned digital platforms from complying with the new IT rules. The news broadcasters already follow the programme code under the Cable Television Network Act. We are also licenced by the MIB and have to abide by the Uplinking/Downlinking guidelines. Since our content already complies with existing rules and regulations there is no need for additional compliance," a top official of a leading news network said on condition of anonymity. 

The executive also said that the OTT platforms that are planning to remove live news need not worry since they are intermediaries and are not liable for the content on live news channels which anyway function under the CTN Act. "The OTT platforms will probably bring back live news channels once the MIB issues a clarification. We are hoping that the ministry will provide more clarity on the issue very soon," the executive added.

According to the source quoted above, live TV as well as on-demand content ,which is broadcast on the news channel, is also distributed through digital platforms like YouTube, Facebook and OTT. "The regulators should focus on regulating content and not the platform. The definition of who is a publisher of content is quite expansive in this digital age. For example, an individual who shoots a video and uploads it on YouTube or Facebook is also a publisher of content. The ministry needs to issue a clarification immediately otherwise it will lead to chaos," the source elaborated.

Another industry source said that the TV news and print media players will be compelled to challenge the guidelines if the ministry doesn't provide clarity. "The NBA is contemplating filing a writ if the ministry decides to regulate broadcaster owned digital news platforms under the new rules," the source said.

Sources say that the NBF has gone one step ahead and filed an RTI seeking details about the creation of the new rules. The ministry is yet to respond to the NBF's query. In its RTI application, the NBF has sought details leading to the necessity to issue Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 for online content while the ministry had adopted forbearance. 

It has also sought details of consultations with traditional media companies who also provide the same content on online platform before the said rules were notified. Further, it has collected information on court matters where the constitutionality of the IT Rules 2021 has been challenged. 

The ministry had earlier informed that 60 publishers and their associations have already initiated the process of formation of self-regulatory bodies under the rule. While video streaming platforms have formed two self-regulatory bodies (SRBs) under the Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) and Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), most news bodies barring DIGIPUB are yet to form SRBs under the new IT rules.

In March, DIGIPUB News India Foundation, which has ALT News, Article 14, Newslaundry, Scroll, News Minute, The Quint and The Wire as its founding members, had formed an independent, high-level ombudsman process/content review committee.

The committee comprises Justice Madan B. Lokur (retd.), former judge of the Supreme Court of India; Swarna Rajagopalan, founder and director for the Prajnya Trust; Bezwada Wilson, a founder of the Safai Karamchari Andolan; and Jawhar Sircar, former CEO of Prasar Bharati and former Secretary, Ministry of Culture, Government of India.

Earlier, the Digital News Publishers Association (DNPA) had requested I&B minister Prakash Javadekar to exclude the TV news and print media from the new rules. The DNPA, which has been formed by India Today Group, Dainik Bhaskar, NDTV, Hindustan Times, Indian Express, Times of India, Amar Ujala, Dainik Jagran, Eenadu and Malayala Manorama, argues that its members should be treated differently than those news publishers who are only on the digital platform.

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