Digital news platforms will have to follow codes of Press Council, Cable TV Network Act

Publishers will have to appoint a Grievance Redressal Officer based in India. The officer shall take a decision on every grievance they receive within 15 days

e4m by exchange4media Staff
Published: Feb 26, 2021 7:50 AM  | 4 min read

The government has brought digital news platforms under the ambit of regulation through Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021.

The guidelines have been framed under section 87 (2) of the Information Technology Act, 2000 and in supersession of the earlier Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines) Rules 2011.

The digital news platforms will now have to follow the journalistic conduct of the Press Council of India (PCI) and the Programme Code under the Cable Television Network Act, which are already applicable to print and TV. This, the government said, will provide a level playing field.

“Publishers of news on digital media would be required to observe Norms of Journalistic Conduct of the Press Council of India and the Programme Code under the Cable Television Networks Regulation Act, thereby providing a level playing field between the offline (Print, TV) and digital media,” the government said in a release.

The government further stated that the rules establish a soft-touch self-regulatory architecture and a Code of Ethics and three-tier grievance redressal mechanism for news publishers, OTT platforms and digital media.

The publisher will have to appoint a Grievance Redressal Officer based in India who shall be responsible for the redressal of grievances received by it. The officer shall take a decision on every grievance they receive within 15 days.

There may be one or more self-regulatory bodies of publishers. Such a body shall be headed by a retired judge of the Supreme Court, a high court or independent eminent person and have not more than six members. Such a body will have to register with the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB).

This body will oversee the adherence by the publisher to the Code of Ethics and address grievances that have not been resolved by the publisher within 15 days. The MIB will formulate an oversight mechanism. It shall publish a charter for self-regulating bodies, including Codes of Practices. It shall establish an Inter-Departmental Committee for hearing grievances.

Queried about the lack of consultation with digital news players, I&B ministry Prakash Javadekar said the ministry doesn’t even know how many digital news organisations are there. “We don’t know how many digital news portals are there. If we don’t know how will we consult with them. Our doors are always open for suggestions and consultation,” Javadekar said.

He also said that 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."

Javadekar also called upon digital news publishers 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."

Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF), a Delhi-based digital liberties organisation, has raised several concerns with respect to the regulation of news media.

In a blog, the IFF stated that the purview of the Information Technology Act, 2000 does not extend to news media, and so the guidelines do not have the legislative backing to regulate news media. Thus, these Rules are exercising powers far beyond the parent legislation.

“Additionally, these guidelines are ultra vires section 79 of the IT Act, which provides a ‘safe harbour’ through an exemption from liabilities in certain cases. This makes these guidelines a camouflaged way to indirectly regulate online news media by bringing these platforms under the aegis of the Information Technology Act, 2000 instead of following the due process of parliamentary scrutiny and subsequent legislation,” it stated.

The vague definition of “publisher of news and current affairs content” may also lead to further arbitrariness. “The definition excludes replica e-papers of newspapers from its ambit. Now, will this mean media publications such as the Caravan magazine, which physically publishes a monthly magazine and was recently at the centre of a social media storm involving blockages of its Twitter accounts, falls under the category of ‘publishers of news and current affairs content’?”

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