oppn parties Regulating Online Media: Involve All Stakeholders

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  • Punjab chief minister Bhagwant Mann sacks state health minister Vijay Singla over corruption charges. Singla was later arrested by the ACB
  • Protestors burn the house of Andhra minister P Viswaroop and MLA Satish Kumar over renaming of Konaseema district as B R Amberdkar Konaseema
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  • While joining US-led IPEF, PM Modi says it will bring "peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region"
  • Mamata Banerjee says Bengal government will not lower VAT as the excise cut by the Centre will already reduce state's revenue by Rs 641 cr
  • Mamata Banerjee says Central agencies must be made autonomous to save democracy
  • While commuting the death sentence of 2 men and 1 woman, the Supreme Court says convict's conduct before and after crime is vital for death penalty
  • Health minister Mansukh Mandaviya slams the Covid death report of WHO at the 75th session of World Health Assembly in Geneva
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oppn parties
Regulating Online Media: Involve All Stakeholders

By Sunil Garodia
First publised on 2018-04-06 15:10:48

About the Author

Sunil Garodia Editor-in-Chief of indiacommentary.com. Current Affairs analyst and political commentator.
As I&B minister Smriti Irani had promised during the ‘fake news’ order fiasco that the government would clamp down on mushrooming websites masquerading as news portals, it has set up a committee to examine how the online media space can be regulated. Although no official circular has been released, a ‘leaked’ copy is available on the internet (as reported by NDTV). It is a step in the right direction. But as usual, the government is going about the task in a partisan manner.

Take a look at the people who will man the committee. Secretaries from the ministries of I&B, law, home, electronics and IT, the department of industrial policy and promotion, along with the chief executive of MyGov, and representatives of the Press Council of India, News Broadcasters Association and Indian Broadcasters Federation are going to have a place in the committee. But where is the representation from the online media space? Shouldn’t a committee that seeks to regulate them have their representatives in the committee that will frame the rules?

There is no doubt that online news portals, opinion sites, educational or entertainment websites or any other websites that disseminate information that shapes public opinion need to be regulated like the print and broadcast media. This is necessary because in the absence of any pre-licensing and almost negligible cost of setting up, any and every one is jumping on the online bandwagon. Further, with penetration of internet increasing manifold and mobile devices becoming cheaper, the potential reach of these websites is immense. So is their potential to cause mischief through dissemination of 'fake’ news and slanted opinions.

Having recognized this, it also needs to be remembered that the government already has a draconian law to regulate the internet space in the form of the Information Technology Act (IT Act). As of now, this law does not differentiate between an individual and an organization. Anyone who is found to violate the provisions can be hauled up. Further, technology makes it easy for the government to pinpoint the source that uploaded the offending piece of news.

Hence, when online media is regulated, the first requirement after issuing licenses would be to take it out of the ambit of the IT Act. If it will be regulated by another set of rules or a new law, then the draconian provisions of the IT Act should not be applicable to such licensed entities. They should also be governed by the laws that are applicable to print and broadcast media. All other facilities, duties and responsibilities, including accreditation, should be at par with those applicable to the print and broadcasting media.

One is sure that no one running a digital media website would resent being brought under regulation provided this is done transparently, in consultation with all stakeholders and in a non-partisan manner. The government, by excluding digital media representatives from the committee, has made its intention clear. Rules for regulation of the digital media space will be made by bureaucrats who will care little about freedom of the press when drafting them. All digital media websites should strongly protest this.

the writer can be contacted at sunilgarodia@gmail.com