Synopsis: The IT (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) new IT Rules 2021, will result in systematic incremental loss of the freedom of speech and expression.
The final notification of the rules will depend on the decisions of the two petitions filed against it in Kerala and Delhi.
- The main motive of this new set of rules is to put in place a grievance redressal mechanism. It will involve the consumer of social media and over-the-top (OTT) platforms and digital news web portals.
- The smaller or medium-sized independent digital news portals will be most affected by this redress requirement. They are already struggling to survive.
What are the issues in this notification?
The worrying aspect of this move is to control the digital media which are more defiant than the mainstream media.
- Firstly, the notification gives the government ad hoc emergency powers to block any content. It would include the content that the government considers problematic even without the symbolic procedure.
- Secondly, regulation by the government. The rules have made a mockery of self-regulation by giving the power of regulation to a committee set up by the government. They can regulate the content on the basis of a real or imagined grievance.
- Thirdly, this measure poses a financial threat as monetization opportunities become limited. Investors and brands get scared because of political considerations interrupting business interests and an unusual media policy regime in constant change.
- Fourthly, it is eroding pillars of democracy. It is important to realize that the fourth pillar i.e. media is as important as the other three pillars, i.e. the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary. A healthy tension among the four pillars keeps the democratic structure strong and vibrant.
- Fifthly, it affects free speech and expression. The freedom of the press, although not prescribed as a fundamental right directly, is a derivative from Articles 19(1)(a) and 19(1)(g). These articles have given every citizen the right to free speech and expression.
There is also a question that why the government is curbing press freedom when there are more stringent laws such as Sedition law and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, or UAPA.
This argumentative notification takes it an absurd step further. A deliberate measure of government regulation of the news media is required to be passed off as self-regulation by that same news media.
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