‘Digital media rules fine blend of liberal touch with gentle self-regulatory framework’
Digital media platforms have no monitoring mechanism like TV news media or print media, which is why the govt felt that there must be a level playing field, said I&B Minister Prakash Javadekar
The government has notified Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021 which it claims will empower ordinary users of social media. The government said that the rules have been formulated amidst growing concerns around the lack of transparency, accountability, and rights of users related to digital media and after elaborate consultation with the public and stakeholders.
The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021 has been framed in exercise of powers under section 87 (2) of the Information Technology Act, 2000 and in supersession of the earlier Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines) Rules 2011.
While finalising these Rules, both the Ministries of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) and Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) undertook elaborate consultations among themselves in order to have a harmonious, soft-touch oversight mechanism in relation to social media platform as well as digital media and OTT platforms etc.
Part- II of these Rules shall be administered by the Ministry of Electronics and IT, while Part-III relating to the Code of Ethics and procedure and safeguards in relation to digital media shall be administered by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.
Addressing journalists at a news conference, I&B Minister Prakash Javadekar said that the OTT platforms were repeatedly asked to form self-regulation rules, just like how TV has done in the past but to no avail. "Hence we decided to create an institutional mechanism for all media,” said Javadekar
He also said that the digital media platforms have no monitoring mechanism like TV news media or print media. "Which is why the govt felt that there must be a level playing field. There have been lots of concerns about the OTT issue. In the recent session, 50 questions related to OTT were asked by parliamentarians."
In respect of news and current affairs, publishers are expected to follow the journalistic conduct of the Press Council of India and the Programme Code under the Cable Television Network Act is already applicable to TV.
Speaking about the new rules, Javadekar said that the government has decided to have a 3-stair mechanism for OTT platforms. "OTT and digital news media will have to disclose their details. We are not mandating registration, we are seeking information. OTT & digital news media, both will have to disclose the details of where they publish, how they publish etc. There also has to be a grievance redressal system."
As part of self-regulation, OTT platforms will have to have a self-regulating body, headed by a retired Supreme Court or high court judge or very eminent person in this category. In the third-tier, there will also be an oversight mechanism at the government level to deal with the case wherein immediate action is needed.
On the issues related to social media intermediaries, IT minister RS Prasad said that concerns raised over the years about rampant abuse of social media. The IT ministry had widespread consultations & we prepared a draft in December 2018. He also informed that there will be two categories of intermediaries. One is social media intermediary and the other is a significant social media intermediary.
"We shall notify users number for a significant social media intermediary very soon. They will have to have a grievance redressal mechanism, you will also have to name a grievance officer who shall register the grievance within 24 hours & disposal in 15 days," Prasad said.
In case, there are complaints against the dignity of users, particularly women - expose private parts of individuals or nudity or sexual act or impersonation etc - social media platforms will be required to remove that within 24 hours after the complaint is made. "This is designed to respect the dignity of women," he averred.
Significant social media platforms will have to follow additional compliances. "Significant social media to have chief compliance officer-resident in India-responsible for ensuring compliance of Acts, have nodal contact person-resident in India-for coordination with law enforcement agencies, have resident grievance officer for grievance redressal," Prasad stated.
The minister also said that the laws made for significant social media will be implemented within three months so that they can improve their mechanism. The rest will come into effect from the day the rules are notified.
He also warned social media platforms against practicing double-standards. 'Every social media platforms are welcome in India but there shouldn't be double standards. If an attack takes place on Capitol Hill, then SM supports police action but if there's an aggressive attack on Red Fort, then you've double standards. This is plainly not acceptable."
Social media platforms, he noted, must have a provision for the voluntary verification mechanism of the users. "If you seek to disable access to the content of any social media user, you are required to give him reasons and also hear him."
Further, social media platforms on being asked either by court or govt authority will be required to disclose 1st originator of mischievous tweet or message. This should be in relation to the sovereignty of India, the security of the state, relations with foreign states, rape etc.
Prasad also disclosed the user base of key social media platforms. These include WhatsApp (53 Crore), YouTube (44.8 Crore), Facebook (41 Crore), Instagram (21 Crore), and Twitter (1.75 Crore).
He noted that social media intermediaries are no longer limited to playing the role of pure intermediaries and often they become publishers. "These rules are a fine blend of liberal touch with a gentle self-regulatory framework. It works on the existing laws and statutes of the country which are applicable to content whether online or offline."
Shankar said that these Rules substantially empower the ordinary users of digital platforms to seek redressal for their grievances and command accountability in case of infringement of their rights.
Providing rationale and justification for new guidelines, Shankar said that the Supreme Court had asked the Government of India to frame necessary guidelines to eliminate child pornography, rape and gangrape imagery, videos, and sites in content hosting platforms and other applications.
He also said that there was a Calling Attention Motion on the misuse of social media and spread of fake news in the Rajya Sabha and the Minister had conveyed to the house on 26/07/2018, the resolve of the Government to strengthen the legal framework and make the social media platforms accountable under the law. He had conveyed this after repeated demands from the Members of the Parliament to take corrective measures.
Further, the Ad-hoc committee of the Rajya Sabha laid its report on 03/02/2020 after studying the alarming issue of pornography on social media and its effect on children and society as a whole and recommended for enabling identification of the first originator of such contents.
The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITY) prepared draft Rules and invited public comments on 24/12/2018. MEITY received 171 comments from individuals, civil society, industry associations,s, and organisations. 80 counter comments to these comments were also received. These comments were analyzed in detail and an inter-ministerial meeting was also held and accordingly, these Rules have been finalised.
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