New IT rules to safeguard digital space, says Centre
The Centre on Tuesday debunked the claims that the new IT Act only pertains to intermediaries and does not include digital news publishers are untrue.
The Act identifies the originator of an electronic message as one being different from an intermediary. While intermediaries only deal with third party content, originators directly control the content which is being published, the Centre said.
"In this regard, while the Act provides safe harbour for the content being published by an intermediary, originators are not entitled to any safe harbour provisions and take full responsibility for the content hosted and/or published by them. Publishers of news and current affairs content are originators, and therefore, well within the scope of the Act," it said in a statement.
The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Codes) Rules, 2021, formulated under the Information Technology Act, 2000, were notified by the Centre on February 25.
It also refuted assertions that the rules are not necessary since there is the Press Council Act, 1978, the Cable Television Networks Regulation Act, and News Broadcasters Standards Authority. It said while the Press Council Act covers newspapers (including replica e-versions of a newspaper), the news portals/websites are not covered under it.
"Similarly, digital news portals/websites of traditional TV organisations are not covered under Cable Television Networks Regulation Act. NBSA is a non-statutory body whose role as a self-regulator has already been questioned by various High Courts, including the Bombay High Court in Nilesh Navalakha vs. Union of India," the Centre said.
Since the digital medium is format agnostic, there exists a difference in the content published and broadcast by traditional media entities on newspaper and television and the content published by their digital media arms.
"Digital platforms of many newspapers conduct panel discussions in the audio-visual format. These are not published in the newspaper, but are made available on digital media in the form of videos or podcasts on the websites and social media handles of the newspaper entities. Similarly, digital media platforms of many television news channels publish textual reports and editorial/opinion articles, which cannot be broadcast on television," it further said.
Before the notification of the Rules, digital news media was largely unregulated. In respect of print media, the Press and Registration of Books Act, 1867 provides for registration of publications, including newspapers. The Press Council of India, under the Press Council Act, 1978, has the powers to conduct enquiries on the basis of complaints and take suitable action including warning, admonition, censor, etc. The Council has prepared the Norms for Journalistic Conduct for this purpose. Similarly, television news channels are required to follow the Programme and Advertising Codes laid down under the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995. No such mechanism was in operation with regard to news on digital media.
The Centre further said that it is wrong to say the Code of Ethics contains vague and subjective notions like ‘half-truths’, ‘good taste’ and ‘decency’. The Code of Ethics for publishers of news and current affairs content requires adherence to the Norms of Journalistic Conduct of the Press Council of India under the Press Council Act, 1978; and Programme Code under section 5 of the Cable Television Networks Regulation) Act, 1995. These are identically the same norms which are presently applicable to traditional print and television news media under the statutes.
The Centre also debunked the notion that the new IT rules seem like an attempt to intimidate the news media into self-censorship, apart from vesting the government with overreaching powers over news content.
Calling the apprehensions totally misplaced, the Centre said that the rules neither contain any provision related to censorship of news, nor that related to monitoring of content by the government or any other body. "Therefore, any question of censorship or surveillance of news media does not arise," it says.
The concept of Inter-Departmental Committee under the Rules is similar to that of the time-tested Inter-Ministerial Committee which looks at certain grievances relating to the violation of the programme code by TV channels.
"Over the last 15 years, the IMC has given recommendations by way of Advisories, Warnings, etc in many cases and in almost every such case, the TV channels have accepted the recommendations of the Committee," the Centre said.