Digital media reach wider, can threaten democratic rights: Govt

The government made the stand in an affidavit filed in the Delhi high court on Monday, opposing a bunch of pleas by a number of digital media platforms challenging the Information Technology Rules 2021.
The petitions say the IT Rules impose government with “vague conditions as good taste, decency and prohibition of half-truths” in regulating news media.
The petitions say the IT Rules impose government with “vague conditions as good taste, decency and prohibition of half-truths” in regulating news media.
Updated on Sep 01, 2021 04:40 AM IST
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By, New Delhi

The government has said that digital media content is “public communication” that can be rapidly shared with several people, is more permanent in nature compared to TV news, with an ability to spread disinformation that can pose a threat to democratic rights, defending in court new rules that expanded its ability to regulate the domain.

The government made the stand in an affidavit filed in the Delhi high court on Monday, opposing a bunch of pleas by a number of digital media platforms challenging the Information Technology Rules 2021. The petitioners have called the new rules unconstitutional and said they amount to an overreach by the executive.

In an affidavit filed before a bench of Chief Justice DN Patel and justice Jyoti Singh, the government said while communications such as emails are private communications, publishing content on social media, digital news portals and OTT (over-the-top, such as streaming services) platforms is essentially a “public communication”.

And due to “transcontinental nature of digital news”, the particular media can be used as a tool for information campaigns by state and non-state actors to influence opinion, it said.

“Therefore, it is submitted that an argument which claims that the scope of the IT Act includes content published by ordinary users, but does not include content published by well-organised commercially oriented news publishers or OTT platforms may not be legally tenable,” the document read.

It said digital media was “format agnostic” and its reach was wider than traditional media as it can be accessed “both by the literate and illiterate”.

Citizens, the government added, cannot be treated as passive consumers without participation in the accountability process.

The petitions say the IT Rules impose government with “vague conditions as good taste, decency and prohibition of half-truths” in regulating news media.

The petitions contend that the rules will lead to over-regulation due to onerous obligation to respond to complaints, which will also require diversion of resources. The need for publisher to defend themselves before multiple levels would also lead to self-censoring and a chilling effect on free speech, the petitioners said

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