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Online media regulations: action shifts to IT Ministry from MIB

As MIB panel on online media norms was panned, mandate given to Meity

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MUMBAI: If online media is readying the champagne to pop, then hold on to your exuberance. The government hasn’t given up its resolve to explore regulations for online media and content. It is only attempting to be on the right side of laid down rules and cut down on duplication of work.

In short, the main action will be shifting from the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) to the Ministry of Electronics and Information and Technology (Meity), while other things remain constant, which means the mandate will continue to be the same.

A government official admitted, without saying so in so many words, that as a Meity committee, set up earlier, has the mandate to explore regulations for online media to facilitate its expansion, MIB will work along with its counterparts bringing in more synergy.

The official insisted that the MIB committee, set up to explore regulations for online media in April 2018, is officially not being dissolved, but will work along with the Meity panel that comprises similar members.

The 10-member panel, constituted by the MIB headed by Smriti Irani, was criticized by experts on the ground that it was outside the jurisdiction of MIB to explore regulations for online media, including OTT services, as the matter fell within the ambit of Meity --- something that MIB Minister Rajyavardhan Rathore had reiterated in Parliament too. A big criticism was that a panel formed to look into matters relating to online media didn’t have a single online player as a member.

When the MIB panel was announced it had as its members the following: MIB Secretary– Convener; Secretary, MeitY; Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs; Secretary, Department of Legal Affairs; Secretary, DIPP; CEO of MyGov and representatives of Press Council of India, News Broadcasters Association, Indian Broadcasting Foundation, apart from representation from any other government organization or industry body deemed fit by the convener.

The terms of reference of the committee were:

i. To delineate the sphere of online information dissemination which needs to be brought under regulation, on the lines applicable to print and electronic media.

ii. To recommend appropriate policy formulation for online media / news portals and online content platforms including digital broadcasting which encompasses entertainment / infotainment and news/media aggregators keeping in mind the extant FDI norms, Programme & Advertising Code for TV Channels, norms circulated by PCI, code of ethics framed by NBA and norms prescribed by IBF, and

iii. To analyze the international scenario on such existing regulatory mechanisms with a view to incorporate the best practices.

As criticisms mounted, the government has done what it is best at doing --- located another government panel with similar or near-similar mandate in the relevant Ministry (Meity) and shifted the onus of exploration of regulations for online media to the rightful department, thereby blunting critics.

Indiantelevision.com has always been of the opinion that rolling back of orders relating to fake news even if the Prime Minister’s Office intervened, and other such backtracking was akin to testing the waters for a bigger move to have norms for online media where content is continuously getting more edgy and experimental.

Meity Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, who also happens to be the Law Minister, yesterday said that it was time to talk to online stakeholders to explore formulation of policies that would govern the online media, especially social media and free messaging platforms like WhatsApp that are being blamed for incidents of lynching in the country.

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