The Editors Guild has sought Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s intervention to revoke the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021, which were announced by the Union Government on February 25, 2021. In its letter to the Prime Minister, the Guild said there was no consultation with different stakeholders before the guidelines were made applicable.
1/3- The Editors Guild of India's letter to the Honorable Prime Minister Shri @narendramodi, Honorable Minister of @MIB_India, @PrakashJavdekar & @GoI_MeitY, @OfficeOfRSP regarding the new Information Technology rules notified on Feb 25th, 2021.@PMOIndia pic.twitter.com/YgQ9ia8Stk— Editors Guild of India (@IndEditorsGuild) March 22, 2021
“The most alarming of these rules is the cumbersome three-tier structure to regulate digital media with an ‘inter-departmental Committee’ at the top and excessive powers being given to a Government Officer to block, modify and delete content. Various other provisions in these rules can place unreasonable restrictions on digital news media, and consequently media at large. These rules have been brought in without due consultation with the stakeholders and deepen the worry that freedom press in India is being seriously compromised,” the letter addressed to the Prime Minister stated.
“Given your public commitment towards protecting freedom of speech and expression in India, we urge your urgent intervention in revoking these rules and for facilitating meaningful consultations with all stakeholders for a constructive approach, which is in line with the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech and expression,” the Guild said in the letter.
The Guild has also written to Union Law and Justice Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad and Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar, highlighting various issues with the regulations. Part-3 of the rules mandates that the Digital News Media should establish a self-regulating mechanism to resolve grievances raised by any person and empowers the Government to delete, modify and block content published by Digital News Media.
“We are conscious of the challenges posed by the digital age, and as such, we recognise the need for self-regulation of Digital News Media. However, we have grave concerns regarding the Rules, which can fundamentally alter how news publishers operate over the internet and undermine the freedom of press in the country,” it stated.
The letter highlighted that as Rules 13, 14 and 15 (Oversight Mechanism) permit officers of the Government to block, delete or modify news published by Digital News Media, it affects the publisher’s fundamental right to expression and the citizen’s right to access differing point of views. It says both rights have been guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.
It stated that the Government has introduced a regime to regulate the functioning of Digital News Media without Parliament’s approval. “The rules have been enacted under the Information Technology Act, 2000 [‘IT Act,2000’], which does not contemplate regulation of Digital News Media which impacts Freedom of Speech and Expression, without the Parliament’s approval.”
The letter said there is a lack of clarity on the applicability of part three of the rules which applies to publishers of news and current affairs as long as they have a physical presence in the country. It said as there is no threshold requirement of readership to differentiate between the Digital News Media based on a scale, the consequences of it will be that even blogs, individuals reporting through social media and nascent news organisations will have to comply with the obligations of the rules.
The Guild said the rules were notified and announced on the same day and that the Government did not consult any stakeholder while they were being drafted. The letter said the rules should be put in abeyance and requested the Government to undertake meaningful consultation with all stakeholders.