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Why Criticisms of New IT Rules 2021 are illogical?


Synopsis: The new IT rules 2021, are not discretionary or arbitrary. These rules are aimed towards creating a level playing field.

Introduction:

Recently, the government introduced the Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021. The rules have the potential to transform the online media platforms to fit into the Indian ecosystem.

Few important provisions of new IT rules 2021:

The major provisions of the new IT rules are,

  • Self-Classification of Content: The OTT(Over the top) platforms would self-classify the content into five age-based categories i.e. U (Universal), U/A 7+, U/A 13+, U/A 16+, and A (Adult).
  • Three-tier grievance redressal framework: Both the digital news publishers and OTT platforms have to establish and follow the three-tier grievance redressal framework.

What are the general criticisms against new IT rules 2021? 

The new IT rules are criticised by various private sectors. These private players mention the new IT rules as discretionary and against freedom of expression. They all point out criticisms like,

  1. 5 Stage content classification on OTT platforms is arbitrary
  2. Government influence in 3-tier Grievance redressal mechanism
  3. The new IT rules were not consulted with OTT platforms
  4. Government right to ban any content on OTT platforms
  5. Furnishing basic information of a user violates privacy
Counter-arguments against the criticisms of new IT rules 2021:

All these steps are aimed to create a level playing field between offline and online media. But there are few criticisms against the new IT rules in 2021. But these criticisms are meaningless.

  1. 5 Stage content classification on OTT platforms: This is for the first time in independent India, the policy is shifted from pre-certification(censorship) to self-classification. This is a more transparent system compare to censorship. Even many countries are not following the same. For example,
    • The Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) of Singapore: All the service providers are required to obtain a license from IMDA for operation. Further, all content must be rated according to the Film Classification Guidelines there.
    • Recently the UK Government released a white paper on the threats posed by unregulated online content. The paper proposed few important points such as,
      • Creating a new independent regulator to ensure online safety,
      • Develop codes of practice,
      • Impose liabilities/fines on companies for the violation, etc.
        So the 5 stage content classification is much in line with the international practice.
  2. Government influence in 3-tier Grievance redressal mechanism: This is completely a wrong criticism. Tier 1 and tier 2 of the self-regulatory body are to be formed by the OTT platforms themselves, not by the government.
  3. Lack of consultation with OTT platforms: The government consulted the private sector on various occasions. Such as,
    • Earlier, the I&B ministry organised consultations in Mumbai and in Chennai with the OTT platforms in November.
    • The I&B minister himself met representatives of OTT platforms in March.
  4. Government right to ban the content: This is not a new provision in India. Under the Information Technology Rules, 2009, the government uses the same provision to ban the content. Further, these provisions are aimed at National Security to protect its national interests in digital platforms.
  5. Furnishing basic information of a user violates privacy: This is not a violation of privacy. Instead, it is transparency. The private players always advocating transparency from the government, but they themselves don’t want to be transparent.

So, the new IT rules 2021 not provide discretionary powers to the government. Instead, the new IT rules are progressive and creating a level playing ground for digital entities.


Clarification on IT Rules, 2021 for OTT Platforms

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