TV news, print players hope for exemption from intermediary guidelines

With TV and print already complying with the Cable Television Network Act and Press Council Act respectively, industry bodies question the need for an extra layer of regulation

e4m by Javed Farooqui
Published: Jun 11, 2021 8:56 AM  | 6 min read

The Indian news industry is in the wait and watch mode as far as complying with the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021 is concerned.

With the 15 day deadline set by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) to furnish information under IT rules expiring on 10th June, the digital media platforms that are backed by news broadcasters and newspapers are yet to furnish the required information as they have sought more time from the ministry. On its part, the ministry has not responded to these requests formally.

On 26th May, the MIB had issued a public notice, directing publishers of news and current affairs content and online curated content (OTT) to furnish information in prescribed formats within 15 days. While most of the OTT players have complied with the notice, the news publishers affiliated to Digital News Publishers Association (DNPA), News Broadcasters Association (NBA), and News Broadcasters Federation (NBF) haven't.

This is because the TV and print players who also have a digital presence have urged the ministry to exclude them from the IT rules since they are not intermediaries. NBA, NBF, and most recently the Indian Newspapers Society (INS) had written letters to the MIB seeking exclusion from the rules. The ministry has still not responded to these requests from the industry. However, the traditional news platforms are hopeful that the MIB will offer some clarity on the issue.

The central argument of the TV news and print players is that they are already complying with existing guidelines and laws so bringing them under IT rules will add an additional layer of regulatory compliance. The news channels argue that the same linear content is carried on TV and digital.

Even as the news publishers have failed to furnish the information sought by the MIB, experts believe that the ministry will not push them to comply with the guidelines till there is some clarity on the queries that have been raised.

"We don't have any update yet from the ministry. We are still evaluating whether or not to furnish the information. We have made a request to the ministry and still following up. The minister heard us and said that he will get back to us with some solution for traditional media. We are just hoping that we don't have to comply," said a top official from a print media company.

The official further stated that the traditional news players are already covered under one or the other regulatory frameworks. "The INS has also made a request that the newspapers should not be covered under this. We are already covered under the Press and Registration of Books (PRB) Act 1867 and Press Council of India (PCI) so the IT rules will put an extra layer. This will become a burden for us. It doesn't make any sense to have a separate redressal team for print and digital since we have the same user," he noted.

The legal head of a news network said that the news broadcasters are waiting to hear from the ministry on the exemption sought by the NBA. "We have still not received any communication from the ministry. We have not furnished any information to the ministry as we are still figuring it out. We have sought an extension from the ministry as we are putting our minds to it. The news broadcasters will collectively figure out the next step," the executive stated.

According to a legal expert, who is connected with the matter, the ministry may not extend the deadline to furnish information but it may not take any coercive action either. "Various bodies are still figuring out if they want to take this issue to the court but they don't want to comply with the requirement to furnish information," the expert said.

"The furnishing of information seems innocuous to just furnish the information, but once you have furnished the information, you have effectively agreed that you are agreeing to abide by this. That's implicit in your agreement to furnish the information. The news publishers are the ones who are worried about this. OTT players will comply with this," the expert added.

The Indian Newspaper Society (INS) has written to the Prime Minister and the I&B minister to exclude newspapers from IT rules. The INS argued that the news websites owned by publications follow stringent guidelines similar to what their newspapers follow. “The print media in India is responsible and credible, following stringent editing and fact-checking norms by Editors every day. Our digital websites are produced from the newspaper's newsroom and follow the same guidelines,” INS said.

It also noted that newspapers are registered with the Registrar of Newspapers in India (RNI) as they fall under the Press and Registration of Books Act. The INS contended that the PRB Act is a Parliamentary law, and has stronger legal force than the IT rules, which are subordinate legislation under the IT Act, INS added.

"The new rules amount to regulatory overreach and is unnecessary to ask the news organisations to follow ano­ther set of rules, which are meant primarily for categories of organisations and intermediaries who are not covered by the PRB Act," INS said in its letter to the PM.

The NBA and the NBF have made similar arguments in their letters to the I&B minister Prakash Javadekar. The NBF has also filed an RTI seeking details about the creation of the new rules.

NBA said that the news channels are sufficiently regulated by various statutes, laws, guidelines and codes, regulations, and judgments. “NBA requests that a specific and express exclusion should be carved out in the definitions of ‘digital news media’ and /or ‘publishers of news and current affairs content’ so as to exclude the applicability of the provisions of the IT Rules, 2021 to the digital news platforms that are owned and run by traditional news media," NBA president Rajat Sharma said in a letter to the minister.

The NBF has requested the ministry to review and exempt traditional news broadcasters from compliance under the new IT Rules since the digital platforms of the broadcasters carry the same content and are subject to government regulation as well the self-regulation by NBF’s Professional News Broadcasters Standards Authority.

In March, the DNPA representatives urged the ministry to exclude its members from the guidelines since the TV and print media have been following the laid down norms of the Cable Television Network Act and the Press Council Act for a very long time. The DNPA members had also stated that they should be treated differently than those news publishers who are only on the digital platform.

 It is pertinent to note that the DIGIPUB News India Foundation, an association of independent publishers of digital news, has formed an independent, high-level ombudsman process/content review committee. The independent committee represents an additional, voluntary layer of transparency on the part of its member publications.

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.

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