MIB explains why news channels with digital presence can't skirt new IT rules

More than 500 digital news publishers and OTT platforms had furnished the requisite information under Rule 18 of the Information Technology Rules, 2021

e4m by Tasmayee Laha Roy
Updated: Jun 14, 2021 9:42 AM

Having received representations from various associations/organizations with pleas of exemption from new IT Rules, MIB clarified its stand on all such requests in the detailed order dated June 10.

The order mentioned that the ministry had examined all the reasons presented by traditional media (print and TV) for the exemption. Explaining their stand, the order said, “The Code of Ethics laid down under the Digital Media Rules 2021 provides that digital news publishers shall adhere to the codes which has three elements- (a) the Program Code under the Cable Television Networks (Regulations) Act; (b)  the Norms of Journalistic Conduct under the Press Council Act and (c) the content which is prohibited under any law for the time being in force be not published. The traditional media (TV and print) are already regulated by these norms. Accordingly, extending these norms to the digital news platforms of the organizations which are in the business of traditional news (TV and print is no news or additional compliance.

The letter further said that while the Press Council Act covers newspapers (including replica e-version of a newspaper), the news portals/websites (.com, ins, etc) are not covered under that Act. Content also differs across the traditional and digital platforms. Accordingly, news portals/websites even of the organizations having traditional newspapers will be covered under the said Rules.

Talking of traditional news entities the order said, “While content appearing on a traditional TV channel is covered under the content regulations framed under the Cable Television Networks (Regulations) Act read along with the Uplinking and Downlinking Guidelines for TV channels (2011), the digital news portal/websites of these traditional TV organizations are not covered under the Act/Guidelines.

Further, the content may be different between traditional and digital platforms. As a case in point, the order said in a recent decision the News Broadcasters Standards Authority (NBFC) held that news which appears only on website (.com/.in) of an organization but not in its traditional TV platform would be outside the scope of its jurisdiction. The order said while newspapers are regulated by RNI under the present Regulation of Books Act  1867 and satellite TV channels are granted permission under the Uplinking and Downlinking Guidelines, 2011 the digital news portal/websites are not covered under these laws/guidelines.

An excerpt from the letter says, “The rational for including the digital news portals/websites of the organizations having traditional news platforms under the ambit of Digital Media Rules 2021 is well reasoned. Making any exception of the nature proposed will be discriminatory to the digital news publishers who do not have a traditional TV/print platform. As already mentioned, since the Code of Ethics requires such digital platforms to follow the existing norms/content regulations which are in vogue for traditional print and TV media, there is no additional regulatory burden for such entities. Accordingly, the request for exempting the digital news content of such organizations from the ambit of Digital media Rules 2021 cannot be acceded to.”

However, the letter also mentioned that the Ministry does recognize that entities having traditional TV and print media are already registered/enrolled with a government of India either under the press and registration of books act (by the registrar of newspapers for India or under the Uplinking and Downlinking Guidelines of 2011 of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. MIB is clear about the fact while notifying the norms for furnishing information by digital news publishers a distinction has been made between organizations having traditional news media and added digital news publishers and for the former, the information sought is the bare minimum.

While clarifying any doubts of OTT platforms that have been reluctant about carrying any news content on the pretext that the content contained therein would be the regulatory responsible for the hosting OTT platform under the digital media rules 2021 MIB said, “Online curated comment” is defined under the clause (q) of rule 2 of the Digital Media Rules 2021 which specifically excludes “news and current affairs content”.

“When any news and current affairs content of a digital news publisher is transmitted on an OTT platform such content would be outside the regulatory responsibility of that platform. However, if any OTT platform receives agree ones related to such news and current affairs content, it may transfer the same to the concerned publisher of that content accordingly there should not be any apprehensions on this count either to the digital news publisher or to the OTT platforms,” the letter said.

The same order that addresses digital news publishers, publishers of online curated content, and the Association of digital media also addresses concerns relating to increased compliance burden on publishers and apprehensions around excessive government control. The order clearly mentions is that in the Level 1 of the three-tier regulatory mechanism the publisher has the complete authority to decide whether or not grievances made are in fact a violation of Code of Ethics and convey the same to the complainant.

Talking of Level 2, the order said that the industry already follows self-regulatory mechanism and the registration of such bodies with the government is only to ensure that the composition is in accordance with the rules and the body undertakes to perform the functions laid down under the rules. The order says, “It is neither stipulated nor intended for the government to either interfere or obstruct the formation of the self regulating body including its composition’.

As far as the oversight mechanism at level three consent the order states that this would be very similar to the existing Interministerial Committee (IMC) that functions smoothly in the television ecosystem.

As of June 10, before this order was sent out, more than 500 digital news publishers and OTT platforms had furnished the requisite information under Rule 18 of the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Codes) Rules, 2021.

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