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Digital news platforms will need to tell govt where they publish, size of subscriber base


(This story originally appeared in on Feb 26, 2021)

NEW DELHI: Digital news platforms and publishers of online curated content operating in India will have to inform the information and broadcasting ministry about where and how they publish, the nature of content they release, and the size of their subscriber base within 30 days of the notification of the Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, for existing platforms, I&B minister Prakash Javadekar said on Thursday.

Clarifying that this was not a mandatory registration process, Javadekar said the information would enable future communication and coordination between the ministry and digital news media platforms, whose exact numbers are unknown as yet. He was responding to questions about why stakeholders in the digital news media segment were not consulted by the ministry ahead of notification of the draft rules.

The newly-minted rules mandate that publishers of news and current affairs content and of online curated content set up a three-tier grievance redress mechanism and publish monthly compliance report containing details of grievances they have received and action they took.

On Thursday, Javadekar said while he held consultative meetings with digital media companies, including OTT platforms in Delhi, Chennai and Mumbai, his appeals for setting up self-regulation mechanisms within 100 days were not met. “Therefore, we decided to set up an institutional mechanism for all media. Media freedom is the soul of democracy. We have fought for press freedom and I have gone to jail during Emergency, but let me also tell you that every freedom has to be responsible freedom. For that, we have decided to have a three-tier mechanism for OTT and digital news media platforms,” he added.

Emphasising the need for a level playing field for all forms of media — print, online and television — Javadekar said news and current affairs digital platforms will need to follow the norms of journalistic conduct prescribed by the Press Council of India Act and the Programme Code of the Cable Television Networks Regulation) Act, as is done by print media and TV channels.

Key features of the new rules include a three-tier self-regulation mechanism for digital media, including news websites, which includes a self-regulation body headed by a retired judge of the Supreme Court or high court, or an “eminent” person in the field.

The digital media rules also provide for a government-appointed oversight mechanism and an Inter Departmental Committee (IDC) comprising representatives of various ministries including defence, external affairs, home, I&B, law, IT and women and child development, among others, empowered to seek hearings on violations of Code of Ethics.

The rules add that a joint secretary level, or senior officer, will be “authorised” to direct the blocking of content. Digital platforms will also not “publish or transmit” any content prohibited under any law, the rules say.

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