The Central government has notified the Information Technology (Guidelines for intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 to regulate the functioning of online media portals and publishers, OTT platforms and social media intermediaries.
According to the Press Information Bureau, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting held consultations in Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai over the last one and half years wherein OTT players have been urged to develop “self-regulatory mechanism”. It has been told that government studied the models of other countries including Singapore, Australia, EU and UK and has gathered that most of them have an institutional mechanism to regulate digital content.
The Rules framed pursuant to the powers conferred by Section 79(2)(c) and Section 69A(2) of the Information Technology Act, 2000 provides for classification of films and other entertainment programmes, including web series, bring digital news platforms within the ambit of regulations covering print and electronic media and attempts to rein in social media intermediaries.
Guidelines for intermediary and social media intermediary
The Rules define ‘significant social media intermediary’ as social media with users above the threshold notified by the Central government.
The Rules mandate that social media intermediary should ‘enable the identification of the first originator of the information on its computer, as “may be required by a judicial or or an order passed by the Competent authority” and such an order shall only be passed for the purposes of prevention, detection, investigation, prosecution or punishment of an offence related to the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, or public order.
If has also been provided that the significant social media intermediary “shall have a physical contact address in India published on its website or mobile based Internet application or both, as the case may be, for the purposes of receiving the communication addressed to it.”
No such information should be published which is patently false and untrue, and is written or published in any form, with the intent to mislead or harass a person, entity or agency for financial gain or to cause any injury to any person.
It has been notified that would be one or more self-regulatory bodies of publishers. Such a body shall be headed by a retired judge of the Supreme Court, a High Court or independent eminent person and have not more than six members. The concerned Regulatory body will have to register with the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. This body will oversee the adherence by the publisher to the Code of Ethics and address grievances that have not be been resolved by the publisher within 15 days.
Disposing a grievance
It has been laid down that a self-regulating body while disposing a grievance or an appeal will issue guidance or advisories to the applicable publisher/entities:
(a) warning, censuring, admonishing or reprimanding such entity;
(b) requiring an apology by such entity; or
(c) requiring such entity to include a warning card or a disclaimer; or
(d) in case of online curated content, direct such entity to (i) reclassify ratings of relevant content; (ii)make appropriate modification in the content descriptor, age classification and access control measures; (iii) edit synopsis of relevant content;
Code of Ethics and Procedure/safeguards for Digital/Online media
Part III of the Rules state that digital and online media will be governed by Code of Ethics. The Code of Ethics which in turn is given in the appendix make the Programme Code under under section 5 of the Cable Television Networks regulation) Act, 1995 and norms of Journalistic Conduct of the Press Council of India under the Press Council Act, 1978 applicable to digital media.
The Code of Ethics is applicable to those entities who are operating within the territory of India and such entity conducts the systematic business activity of making its content available in India, which is targeted at Indian users. The code of ethics will cover the following entities:
- publishers of news and current affairs content;
- intermediaries which primarily enable the transmission of news and current affairs content;
- publishers of online curated content.
- intermediaries which primarily enable the transmission of online curated content.
Monthly compliance report
The rules require the concerned body/entity to publish a monthly compliance report mentioning the details of complaints received and action taken on the complaints as well as details of contents removed proactively by the significant social media intermediary.
Such entities should not publish content which affects the sovereignty and integrity of India, jeopardises security of State or which is detrimental to India’s friendly relations with foreign countries. Further, online content should be classified based on the nature of the content ‘U’, ‘UA’, ‘A’ etc
They should also take into consideration India’s multi-racial and multi-religious context and exercise due caution and discretion when featuring the activities, beliefs, practices, or views of any racial or religious group.
A three-tier structure has been notified to address the grievances made by various users.
(a) Level I – Self-regulation by the applicable entity.
(b) Level II — Self-regulation by the self-regulating bodies of the applicable entities
(c) Level III – Oversight mechanism by the Central Government.
Establishment of “Grievance Portal”
It has been laid down that the concerned 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, within three months of the commencement of the rules.
- If a person is having a grievance against any ‘content published by an applicable entity’ then the same may register its grievance on the Grievance Portal.
- The Portal shall generate and issue an acknowledgement of the grievance the benefit of the complainant within 24 hours of its registration, and electronically direct the grievance to the applicable entity for addressing the grievance, and also refer such grievance to the Ministry and the self-regulating body for information and record.
Mandatory Notification by the Significant publishers and ‘content’ creators
It has been stated that it shall be mandatory for ‘significant publisher’ of news and current affairs content to notify the Broadcast Seva that – it is operating in the territory of India, by furnishing the information that may be required on the Broadcast Seva by the Ministry, for the purpose of enabling communication and coordination with such publisher.
The explanation reads that – for the purposes of this rule, a publisher of news and current affairs content shall be a significant publisher of news and current affairs content if it:
(a) publishes news and current affairs content as a systematic business activity.
(b) operates in the territory of India.
(c) has not less than five lakh subscribers, or fifty lakh followers on the services of any significant social media intermediary.
“Publisher/entities shall take into consideration India’s multi-racial and multi-religious context and exercise due caution and discretion when featuring the activities, beliefs, practices, or views of any racial or religious group.” reads out the general principles of the code of conduct.
Self-Classification of Content
The rules state that the OTT platforms, which have been regulating their content through various, would be self-classifying the content into five age based categories– U (Universal), U/A 7+, U/A 13+, U/A 16+, and A (Adult). The concerned online platforms would be required to implement parental locks for content classified as U/A 13+ or higher, and reliable age verification mechanisms for content classified as “A”.