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Centre promises to tighten new digital media rules after Supreme Court says they lack teeth


The government assured the Supreme Court it would draw up a more stringent version of rules it had unveiled last week after the top court faulted them for “lacking in teeth.” The Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, were notified on February 25.

“We have seen the IT guidelines for intermediaries and media ethics code rules. These are lacking in teeth,” said a bench led by justice Ashok Bhushan on Friday. “These rules are more in the nature of guidelines. There is no effective mechanism to screen or take appropriate action against those who do not follow the guidelines,” the two-judge bench told solicitor general Tushar Mehta. The issue involves “uncontrolled… unscreened” viewing of content, the court noted.

The court shielded Amazon Prime Video India head Aparna Purohit from arrest in connection with a Noida case over the alleged anti-Hindu content of Tandav, a series shown on the streaming service. She was granted the protection on condition she cooperated with the investigation. The other judge on the bench was R Subhash Reddy.

Bhushan had dubbed some of the content aired on such over-the-top (OTT) platforms as pornographic on Thursday and called for mandatory pre-screening of such content. On Friday, he singled out the lack of a mechanism in the new guidelines to screen content before it was telecast. He also said the guidelines did not provide for punishment or fines against those who violated guidelines.

Mehta said the regime would be tightened. “A fresh draft will be submitted to the court,” he said. The rules issued last week had sparked concern about censorship and being beyond the ambit of the existing law. Those fears are likely to become more acute as the government seeks to abide by the Supreme Court’s recommendations by way of new rules or legislation, said experts. A penal provision cannot be inserted into the regulations and would have to be implemented through a new law, they said.

Nothing pornographic about it, says advocate

Amazon has deleted two scenes from Tandav at the instruction of the government and was willing to delete more if asked to do so, said senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, representing Purohit along with senior advocate Siddharth Luthra.

They were assisted by a team of lawyers from Karanjawala & Co led by Ruby Singh Ahuja.

Rohatgi contended that Purohit was only an employee of the company that owns the platform on which the series can be viewed.

The allegedly objectionable scenes have been removed and the makers have apologised for the same, he argued.

Rohatgi also complained to the court about the “pornography” reference made by the bench with regard to content aired on the Prime Video platform.

“There is nothing pornographic about it,” he said. “We do not show pornography.” Rohatgi cited his personal experience to argue that the platforms air quality shows and movies that he watches often.

He also invited the judges and Mehta to view the content for themselves.

Purohit has already secured similar protection from the Allahabad High Court in another case lodged in Lucknow and has, in response to summons, joined the investigations.

The high court had granted her protection in the Lucknow case but denied her relief on February 25 in the Noida case although no summons had been issued to her in that case, Rohatgi complained to the top court.

The Supreme Court bench also issued notices to complainants in the case seeking their formal response on her plea against the multiple FIRs filed across the country.

Rohtagi dubbed these as publicity seeking FIRs. Some 10 such FIRs have been filed by right-wing outfits in different parts of the country over alleged adverse references to a Hindu god in the series.

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