Legal experts say new guidelines on digital media regulation 'undemocratic'

Express News Service
NEW DELHI: Days after the Centre notified fresh rules on regulating digital media content in a gazetted notification, legal experts said the rules were ‘draconian’ and ‘undemocratic’.

The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 will ‘change the way the internet will be experienced in India’, said the Internet Freedom Foundation, an NGO that conducts advocacy on digital rights and liberties, in a post. Medianama founder and digital rights activist Nikhil Pahwa said the new rules were undemocratic. On Thursday, the government had termed its new rules as ‘a soft-touch self-regulatory architecture’.

 “The impact of the guidelines is extremely worrying. The impact of these guidelines is similar to a law itself would have. It looks like the government is using rules to create a law without parliamentary scrutiny,” said Pahwa.

Senior advocate Menaka Guruswamy said “what was problematic was that the oversight mechanism for digital news forums and OTT platforms will be the same.”

“How can the press and entertainment forums be regulated by the same mechanism? The press is here to hold governments to account, report on matters of national importance. They should not be regulated by the executive which are tasked to hold accountable,” said Guruswamy.  

The three-level grievance redressal mechanism will include self-regulation by publishers of addressing grievance within 15 days, self-regulation by publishers’ self-regulating bodies which will address grievances not resolved in the fortnight, and oversight mechanism by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB)which will establish an inter-departmental committee for hearing grievances.  

While the self-regulating body will be headed by a retired judge of the Supreme Court, a High Court or independent eminent person and have not more than six members, and will have to register with the MIB.

Supreme Court lawyer Karuna Nundy said, “The government has set up a three-tier system to regulate digital news media and platforms like Amazon Prime, Netflix etc.By doing this, the government has tried to enable itself to censor and edit news content as well as entertainment content from the platforms. This has been done without any proper consultation  This censorship regime is far more draconian than regulation by the Press Council for your physical regular newspaper.”

Under the new rules the ultimate authority for all online content will remain with the government, in case of OTT platforms and digital media sites, pointed out cyber lawyer Ankur Raheja.

Cyber law expert Pavan Duggal said the new rules have the potential to impact both personal privacy as well as data privacy of users.”The new rules , being secondary legislation, go far beyond the scope of the primacy legislation being the IT Act. Given the fact that the IT Act,2000 is not a privacy legislation, the new rules introduce new grounds, which could impact personal and data privacy,” said Duggal.