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NBA urges govt to exclude digital news platforms of traditional media from IT Rules, 2021

Association opposes provisions of blocking content on the digital platforms of traditional media houses

The News Broadcasters Association (NBA) has written to I&B Minister Prakash Javadekar, requesting for the exclusion of digital news platforms owned and run by traditional news media from the purview of the provisions of the new IT Rules, 2021.

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“NBA requests that a specific and express exclusion should be carved out in the definitions of ‘digital news media’ and /or ‘publishers of news and current affairs content’ so as to exclude the applicability of the provisions of the IT Rules, 2021 to the digital news platforms that are owned and run by traditional news media,” the letter sent by NBA President Rajat Sharma read.

The electronic news media is no different from print media and majority of content hosted on their digital platforms is nothing but a replica of content that is already a part of the broadcast and has also passed the litmus test of being compliant to the various applicable regulations. In this context, NBA argued that the digital news media owned and operated and directly run by traditional news media ought not to be brought under the ambit and purview of the IT Rules, 2021.

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Highlighting the operational issues in implementing new rules, NBA said, “The IT Rules 2021, if applied to the digital media of the linear television medium, would only result in duplication of the adjudicatory and redressal mechanism, resulting in the creation of parallel adjudicatory bodies. The IT Rules, 2021, prescribe administrative regulations, which will make it virtually impossible for small or medium-sized traditional news media organisations to survive. Any additional mandates as contemplated under the IT Rules, 2021 would result in increasing the employee costs and compliance requirements of the traditional news media organisations, along with duplication and creation of parallel processes. The media organisations would have to devote significant resources and time in resolving each complaint and in defending itself before multiple forums.”

“The need of the hour is to strengthen the already existing independent self-regulatory mechanism of NBSA and to give statutory recognition to the Code of Ethics instead of having two parallel mechanisms in place,” NBA added.

NBA also said that in any event till such time as the pending matters challenging the IT Rules, 2021 in the various High Courts are adjudicated upon and decided, the IT Rules, 2021 should be kept in abeyance/suspension specifically with regard to the members of NBA already have an independent self-regulatory body, NBSA to adjudicate upon all complaints received by it.

The letter also pointed out certain deficiencies in the IT Rules, 2021, which are listed below as the said Rules ought not to:

i) use terms like ‘half-truths’, ‘good taste’, ‘decency’ which are words that are vague and ambiguous;
ii) enact excessive regulations for the digital medium in order that a level playing field be maintained with the traditional electronic news media; and
iii) treat digital media as a ‘Social Media Intermediary’ or ‘Significant Social Media Intermediary’.

NBA also opposed the provisions of blocking content on the digital platforms of traditional media houses. “The IT Act, 2000 and the IT Rules 2021, and more specifically provisions inter alia such as the blocking of content in cases of emergency, will severely impact the freedom of speech and expression of the media. Since the news channels/broadcasters and their extended digital arms strictly adhere to the statutes and regulations applicable and are governed at multiple levels of redressal mechanism, if the IT Rules, 2021 are made applicable, it will not only lead to harassment of the news channels/broadcasters but will also suppress and violate their fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression and will also restrict news reporting in a fair manner,” NBA said.

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