Media houses’ sites to come under ambit of Section 69(A) of IT Act
Websites of traditional media houses, which so far have not come under the ambit of section 69(A) of the Information Technology Act, will now do so and also follow the new rules put in place for digital media by the government, an official familiar with the matter said on Saturday.
The websites will have to separately furnish the details of their operations, including the email address of a contact person, to the information and broadcasting ministry. Officials from the ministries of I&B and electronics and information technology are slated to meet on Monday to discuss the issue. The government will also provide a format within which the news media entities will voluntarily furnish their details.
Section 69 (A) of the IT Act allows the government to take action against posts and accounts that may pose a threat to public order or the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states.
So far, traditional media houses have been governed the Press Council of India Act. They are mandated to follow a journalistic code of ethics to ensure the sanctity of the information. Digital news media, on the other hand, was not under any regulation and was only brought under the ambit of the I&B ministry last year. The Centre has repeatedly stated that the new rules will bring accountability to the sector and check the spread of fake news.
“Digital news media and entertainment is growing at rate of over 30%,” the government official cited above said. “It is important that there are checks and balances. The rules will work within the framework of the judicial system. If someone believes that unfair action has been taken, it can be challenged in the court.”
The emergency blocking guidelines, which so far have only been exercised by a designated officer of the central government, have rested with MeitY (the IT ministry). These have now been extended to the authorised officer of the I&B ministry, who will also head the top tier of the self-regulation system for grievance redressal for over the top (OTT) platforms such as Netflix and Hotstar and online news media organisations.
The government in a clarification on Saturday said that the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 “provide an institutional framework for news publishers and OTT platforms on the digital media ecosystem.” They added that no new provision has been inserted.
“Certain misgivings are being raised regarding Rule 16 under Part III of the rules, which mention that in a case of emergency nature, interim blocking directions may be issued by the Secretary, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting,” the ministry said. “It is to inform that this provision is exactly the same as being exercised by the Secretary, Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology since the past eleven years under the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Blocking for Access of Information by Public) Rules, 2009. Since Part III of the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 would be administered by the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, that is why the reference to Secretary MeITY has been replaced by Secretary, Ministry of Information & Broadcasting.”
Hindustan Times on Wednesday reported that the Union government wants to treat online news media publishers at par with traditional media publishers, such as newspapers and news channels, and also bring them under the ambit of Section 69 (A) of the Information Technology Act that gives takedown powers to the government, according to new guidelines.
Digital media, as defined in a document that lays out the government’s framework to regulate online content, will cover digitised content that can be transmitted over the internet or computer networks. It includes intermediaries such as Twitter and Facebook, and publishers of news and current affairs content. It also includes so-called curators of such content.
So far, online news media has remained unregulated, with the Information & Broadcasting ministry brining it under its ambit last year, but not yet formalising rules for it. Nor are intermediaries, especially social media companies that take refuge in their intermediary status when it comes to owing up responsibility for content. According to the guidelines titled Information Technology (Guidelines for intermediaries and digital media ethics code) Rules, 2021, digital news media publishers will need to follow rules that apply to print and electronic media.
Newspapers and TV news channels are governed under the Press Council of India Act, 1978 and Cable Television Networks Regulation Act, 1995 respectively. According to the proposed changes, these acts will also apply to online news and current affairs portals under the Code of Ethics. They are expected to follow the norms, with the government also planning to put in place a three-tier self-regulation system to ensure compliance with the Code.
An association of digital publications of news and current affairs has written to Union Information and Broadcasting minister Prakash Javadekar, expressing strong reservations against the guidelines.
The online publications have called the new rules “unfair, the process of their formulation undemocractic and the method of their implementation an infringement upon the freedom of expression”.
“From the early 1950s, with the setting up of the Press Council, the idea has been that the written medium be kept away from all executive interference in the interest of not just the publication, but of the wider public to ensure the widest possible dissemination of news and ideas,” the letter notes.