The DIGIPUB News India Foundation has taken strong exception to the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 (IT Rules) and has written to Union Information and Broadcasting minister Prakash Javadekar saying the IT Rules in “some places appear to go against the fundamental principle of news and its role in a democracy.”
The foundation – the largest coming together of digital news publications from India – has requested that the rules either be repealed or put on hold until consultations with concerned stakeholders have taken place. It mentioned that while it had written to the concerned ministry on December 2, 2020, it “never received a reply. We believe it is still not too late,” it added.
DIGIPUB has written to the ministry at a time when the rules have come into force. “It's done: The IT Rules, 2021, are officially in play. We cannot stress this enough - this fundamentally changes the Indian internet,” the Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) tweeted this morning.
“These Rules in some places appear to go against the fundamental principle of news and its role in a democracy. While rules and laws already exist to hold news media accountable, the aforesaid rules enable the executive government to even remove content published as current affairs or news (Rule 14.) among other things,” DIGIPUB stated.
It added that that a current affairs publication represented not just the publisher or author’s fundamental right to expression guaranteed under Article 19 (1)(a) of the Constitution but also a citizen’s right to be informed.
“For the executive to have the absolute power to regulate the content of news portals or publications would be to strike not only at the constitutional scheme but at democracy itself,” it said.
The foundation added that there were “anomalies” in the rules which result in “adverse consequential action, such as in the case of defamation.” It said that such action was only merited if it had been subjected to scrutiny by the courts and on legal principles. “This entire legal process is bypassed by the Rules, in as much as, upon a complaint of defamation, a body consisting of bureaucrats and controlled by the Central Government may decide the merits and block access to the content of any current affairs publication,” it added.
“A current affairs portal is by and large, a written newspaper in the digital format. From the early 1950s, with the setting up of the Press Council, the idea has been that the written medium be kept away from all executive interference in the interest of not just the publication, but of the wider public to ensure the widest possible dissemination of news and ideas,” it emphasised.
In a statement released in November last year, DIGIPUB had urged the government to “undertake a detailed consultation with all stake holders,” mentioning that legacy media companies would not accurately represent the concerns of digital-only publications.
“In the midst of a pandemic when economies, investments and jobs are faltering in India and around the world, such moves by the government are likely to do more harm than good. Restrictive policies could have serious consequences, including job losses,” it had mentioned.
Disclaimer: Newsclick is a founding member of the DIGIPUB News India Foundation