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'Potential to undermine media freedom': Editors Guild on new IT rules

Raises concerns that it will “fundamentally alter” and put “unreasonable restrictions” on digital

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NEW DELHI: The Editors Guild of India has raised concerns about the Indian government’s new Information Technology rules, saying they will “fundamentally alter” and put “unreasonable restrictions” on digital media.

On 25 February, the Centre notified the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021, under the Information Technology Act. The rules are framed to regulate social media companies, streaming and digital news content, virtually bringing them under the ambit of government supervision.

Online platforms will now have to be much more responsive to complaints about posts on their networks, including giving the government details about the “originator” of content – effectively breaking end-to-end encryption – as well as setting up verification systems that could have a major impact on individual privacy.

The Editors Guild said the government cannot “overwhelm India’s constitutional safeguards” for free media in the name of controlling an “unfettered social media”.

“The rules, issued under the Information Technology Act, 2000, fundamentally alter how publishers of news operate over the Internet,” the association said. “They empower the Union government to block, delete, or modify published news anywhere in the country without any judicial oversight and mandate all publishers to establish a grievance redressal mechanism. Various provisions in these rules can place unreasonable restrictions on digital news media, and consequently media at large.”

The Editors Guild added that the rules have potential to “seriously undermine” media freedom in India. It expressed concern over the fact that the government did not consult all stakeholders before notifying the “far-reaching rules”.

The association urged the government to suspend the rules and hold a meaningful consultation with the stakeholders.

Meanwhile on Friday, the Supreme Court noted that the rules to regulate streaming platforms “lacked teeth” as there was no provision to punish violators. It made the observation while granting interim protection from arrest to Amazon Prime Video’s India content head Aparna Purohit in the criminal complaints lodged against her in connection with the web series Tandav.

Solicitor general Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, said he will submit a draft legislation to the court.

On Thursday, minister of information and broadcasting Prakash Javadekar had clarified that OTT platforms will not have to register with the ministry and that a self-regulating body under the new digital rules would have no members appointed by the government. Javadekar claimed that the rules focused on self-classification of content instead of imposing any form of censorship.

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