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Centre Notifies Rules For Regulation of Social Media Intermediaries, OTT Platforms & Online Media

Akshita Saxena
25 Feb 2021 10:03 AM GMT
Centre Notifies Rules For Regulation of Social Media Intermediaries, OTT Platforms & Online Media
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The Central Government on Thursday announced the Information Technology (Guidelines For Intermediaries And Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 to regulate the social media intermediaries, OTT platforms and online news and current affairs websites. The Rules prescribing a Code of Ethics and a three-tier content regulation mechanism have been framed under the decades...

The Central Government on Thursday announced the Information Technology (Guidelines For Intermediaries And Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 to regulate the social media intermediaries, OTT platforms and online news and current affairs websites.

The Rules prescribing a Code of Ethics and a three-tier content regulation mechanism have been framed under the decades old Information Technology Act, 2000. They have come into force with their notification in the Official Gazette today.

Code of Ethics in Relation to Digital/Online Media

The Code of Ethics shall inter alia apply to publishers of online curated content and intermediaries.

It stipulates that an applicable entity shall exercise due caution and shall take into consideration the following factors, when deciding to feature any content on its platform:

  • Content which affects the sovereignty and integrity of India;
  • Content which threatens, endangers or jeopardizes the security of the State;
  • Content which is detrimental to India's friendly relations with foreign countries.
  • India's multi-racial and multi-religious context.
  • Activities, beliefs, practices, or views of any racial or religious group in India.

It also stipulates categories of rating from U to A based on several factors like language, nudity, violence, etc.

The Ministry shall establish an online Grievance Portal, as the central repository for receiving and processing all grievances from the public in respect of the Code of Ethics

Three-tier grievance redressal framework for news sites and OTT platforms

For ensuring adherence to the abovesaid Code of Ethics and for addressing the grievances thereof, the Government has proposed a three-tier structure as under:

Level I - Self-regulation by the applicable entity

An applicable entity shall establish appoint an India based Grievance Redressal Officer, for redressal of grievances. He shall act as the nodal point for interaction with the complainant, the self-regulating body and the Ministry.

The applicable entity shall address the grievance and inform the complainant of its decision within 15 days.

Level II — Self-regulation by the self-regulating bodies of the applicable entities

All applicable entities shall come together to form an independent "Self-Regulatory Body" that shall be headed by a retired judge of the Supreme Court or of a High Court, appointed from a panel prepared by the Ministry.

The Body will further comprise of maximum six members, being experts from the field of media, broadcasting, technology and entertainment.

This Body shall perform the following functions:

  • Oversee and ensure adherence to the Code of Ethics
  • Provide guidance to such entities on various aspects of the Code of Ethics
  • Address grievances which have not been resolved by such entities within the stipulated period of 15 days
  • Hear appeals filed by the complainant against the decision of such entities
  • Issue advisories to entities for ensuring compliance to the Code of Ethics

While disposing a grievance or an appeal, the Self-regulatory Body shall have the following powers:

  • Issue warning, censure, admonish or reprimand such entity
  • Require an apology by such entity
  • Require such entity to include a warning card or a disclaimer

Further, in case the Body is of opinion that there is a need for taking of action in relation to the complaint under Section 69A of the IT Act, refer such complaint to the Oversight Mechanism.

Level III - Oversight mechanism by the Central Government

Where the applicable entity fails to comply with the advisories of the self-regulating body, the latter shall refer the matter to the Oversight Mechanism within prescribed time.

The Oversight Mechanism with have the following functions-

  • Publish a charter, including Codes of Practices, for self-regulating bodies
  • Develop the Grievance portal for prompt disposal of the grievances
  • Establish an Inter-Departmental Committee for hearing grievances
  • Refer to the Inter-Departmental Committee grievances arising out of the decision of the self-regulating body or where no decision has been taken by the self-regulating body within the stipulated time period

Inter-Departmental Committee

The IT Ministry shall constitute an Inter-Departmental Committee consisting of representatives from:

  • Ministry of Information and Broadcasting
  • Ministry of Women and Child Development
  • Ministry of Law and Justice
  • Ministry of Home Affairs
  • Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology
  • Ministry of External Affairs
  • Ministry of Defence
  • Indian Computer Emergency Response Team
  • Such other Ministries and Organizations, including domain experts, that it may decide.

The functions of this Committee shall include hearing complaints regarding violation or contravention of the Code of Ethics by an applicable entity —

  • arising out of grievances in respect of decisions taken at the Level I or II, including where no such decision is taken within the time specified
  • Suo motu if in the opinion of the Committee such hearing is necessary, for reasons to be recorded in writing
  • Referred to it by the Ministry.

It shall then make its recommendations to the Ministry as under :

  • Issue warning, censure, admonish or reprimand such entity
  • Require an apology by such entity
  • Require such entity to include a warning card or a disclaimer

Due diligence to be observed by Intermediaries

Rule 4 of the 2021 Draft Rules provide 16-due diligence rules to be followed by intermediaries in India.

Further, all intermediaries shall be required to appoint a Chief Compliance Officer who shall be responsible for ensuring compliance with the Act. he shall also act as a nodal person of contact for 24x7 coordination with law enforcement agencies and officers to ensure compliance to their orders or requisitions made in accordance with the provisions of law.



Commenting on the rules, Sidharth Varadarajan, founding editor of 'The Wire' said :

"On a quick reading, the burdens being placed on publishers of digital news go beyond the basic restrictions on freedom of speech (and thus freedom of the press) envisaged by Article 19 and are therefore ultra vires the Constitution. Digital publishers are already subject to Article 19 restrictions and the numerous defamation cases filed against them, not to speak of various criminal cases, are proof of how existing laws are being used (or abused) in order to regulate digital media. The Indian constitution does not grant the executive the power to sit in judgment over the suitability of content published by the media. Granting an inter-ministerial committee of bureaucrats the power to pass judgment on what can and can't be published or to decide on whether a media platform has responded adequately to grievances raised by members of the public has no basis in law and will amount to killing freedom of the press in India. Just to reiterate, existing laws already define the reasonable restrictions on press freedom in India and any reader or government official with a grievance is free to seek a legal remedy provided it falls within the four walls of the "reasonable restrictions" defined by the constitution and 70 years of Indian jurisprudence on them. The media cannot be compelled to address "grievances" that go beyond that Lakshman Rekha".

Click here to read/download the Rules



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