‘Define anti-national attitude; bring laws to counter fake news’: House panel

Updated on Nov 21, 2021 02:44 AM IST

The report is set to be tabled in the winter session of the Parliament, which starts November 29.

One of the recommendations made by the parliamentary panel on IT is to introduce dedicated laws to counter fake news. (Representational image)
One of the recommendations made by the parliamentary panel on IT is to introduce dedicated laws to counter fake news. (Representational image)
ByDeeksha Bhardwaj, Hindustan Times, New Delhi

From seeking a definition of what constitutes an “anti-national” attitude, to asking the Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (I&B) to explore a better system for evaluating television rating points, and introducing dedicated laws to counter fake news, the parliamentary panel on Information and Technology (IT) has recommended a host of reforms for traditional as well as digital media platforms, people familiar with the matter said on Saturday.

The panel, headed by Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, feels that it is “a matter of grave concern that media, which was once the most trusted weapon in the hands of the citizenry in our democracy and acted as trustees of the public interest, is gradually losing its credibility and integrity where values and morality are being compromised,” one of the people aware of the recommendations, asking not to be named.

The report is set to be tabled in the winter session of the Parliament, which starts November 29.

The issues addressed in the report include instances of violations of code of conduct of ethics by the media in the form of paid news, fake news, TRP manipulation, media trials, sensationalism and biased reporting. “(These) have placed a big question mark on its (media) credibility in the minds of people which is not a good sign for the healthy democracy. A healthy democracy thrives on participation of the public, which is only possible through circulation of accurate information by responsible media,” the person added.

The report commends the government bring in new social media and intermediary guidelines, but has also sought feedback from the I&B ministry regarding how well the objectives of introducing them have been achieved.

“The Committee hopes that these guidelines will go a long way in regulating digital media content and both the ministries will work coherently and in tandem to ensure that the code for ethics is followed by digital media also,” the person said.

The panel has also been informed that there are discussions underway to introduce an umbrella statute for the media sector covering print, electronic and online platforms. The matter is under examination. The Union government is considering an umbrella legislation for all traditional and digital media companies to ensure a level playing field, HT reported on August 17. The law is proposed to cover print and electronic media, digital media, cinema, even so-called over-the-top or OTT platforms such as Netflix and Hotstar.

The committee also noted continued concerns about fake news in some newspapers. “The Committee, however finds to their utmost concern, that the erring newspapers tend to repeat the same mistakes, even after being censured by the Press Council of India (PCI), till action is taken by the Bureau of Outreach and Communication (BOC) to withhold government advertisements to that particular newspaper for a certain period of time as per the Government of India’s Policy,” the person said.

During 2016, 2017 and 2020, a total of 105 cases were censured by the PCI, out of which 73 cases led to suspensions by the BOC. The committee would expect the ministry/PCI to strengthen the enforcement mechanism of the PCI so that all its orders are acted upon,” the person said. It has also suggested expanding the membership of the PCI to include people from several states to ensure fair representation.

The panel, said the above quoted person, was also informed by the PCI that several complaints were received against electronic media by the media body, but action was not taken since it doesn’t fall under their purview, “So, PCI feels it is advisable that something “parallel (to PCI)” be set up for the entire media i.e. newspapers and periodicals in print or other form, e-newspapers, news portals, social media and any other platform of news dissemination, besides electronic media. The PCI has made recommendations to the government to enact a single legislation so as to cover all the aforesaid media, in line with the Press Council Act, 1978,” the person said.

Referring to rule 6(1)(e) of the Cable Network Rules, 2014, which bars the broadcasting of anything that, among other things, promotes ‘anti-national attitudes’, the panel suggested that term be broadly defined to remove any ambiguity in interpretation.

The parliamentary committee has also expressed its dissatisfaction with the present system of measuring of TRPs and has drawn the ministry’s attention to the “recent reported episodes of manipulation of TRPs by some TV channels rigging the devices used by BARC”. “This has put a big question mark on the objectivity, accuracy, efficacy and transparency of the current system and clearly indicates how the ratings can be manipulated by some channels in connivance with the BARC officials. While taking a serious view of this, the Committee desires the Ministry to look into the entire process of the TRP system and identify a solution for a more transparent and accountable system for measuring TRPs,” the person said.

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