CJI flags “Communal content” in media

Synopsis: To understand how to balance free speech with accountability for digital media.

Introduction

Recently, the Chief Justice of India has raised his concerns over the fake information published on various web sources like Facebook, YouTube etc. He also mentioned that it has the potential to incite communal tensions and can bring communal disharmony. This would ultimately result in giving the country a bad name.

What is the Supreme Court’s view?

While hearing the petition highlighting how some media outlets aired communal content linking the spread of the coronavirus to a Tablighi Jamaat meet held at Nizamuddin in Delhi. In that petition, the SC said although the role of a free press in a democracy must be respected, the rampant misuse of the Right to Speech should be controlled.

The SC also asked the government, whether “there was any regulatory mechanism” in place for the web or against the people who are misusing their Right to Speech.

Why does the misuse happen in web sources? 

No accountability: There is no accountability from web-based platforms like Twitter, Facebook etc.

No regulatory control: No presence of regulatory control over the publishing of fake news. For e.g., various channels on YouTube publish the news without verifying the facts.

Misuse of social media by criminals: Anti-social elements exploit it to run weapons, drugs, contraband and pornography. Hate and violence are shared and spread through these virtual platforms.

State: Given the issue of fake news, paid news etc. which also involves political actors and parties, State seems to have become a part of the problem and not the solution.

What actions have been taken by the Government?

To control the spread of fake information, the government introduced:

Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021: It tends to strike a balance between the media’s right to Free speech and citizen’s Right to correct information. Its objective is to stop the circulation of fake news and hold web portals and channels accountable for who published the fake news.

The government also requested to transfer cases challenging the Information Technology Rules of 2021 from the various High Courts to the SC for quick resolution of the cases.

For complaints against broadcasters: The government introduced Cable Television Networks (Amendment) Rules of 2021. The Rules provide for a three-level grievance Redressal mechanism.

What needs to be done?

There is an urgent need for a “properly framed regime” to establish accountability. The first step can be the ability to trace the “originators” of messages on social media platforms.

Source: This post is based on the following articles:

  • YouTube channels, portals have no accountability: Supreme Court” published in The Times of India on 3rd September 2021.
  • CJI flags ‘communal content’ in media” published in The Hindu on 2nd September 2021.

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