In need to regulate social media and digital media platforms, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) issued new regulations under the Information Technology Act, 2000. The Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 guidelines serve two primary and significant goals:
- – to make social media platforms more liable in an attempt to prevent abuse and misuse.
- – to provide social media users with more authority by constructing a three-tiered grievance resolution process.
The amendment, which MeitY made available for public comment scrutiny on June 1st, was withdrawn as soon as it was released. It is heard the policy might be released once more.
Before learning about the newly drafted legislation, lets run through the historical background of the parent law.
A legal framework for digital media in India did not exist prior to the introduction of these guidelines. The Ministry of Information Broadcasting (MIB) had no control over content available online, and court rulings involving content available online were governed by the IT Act. OTT (Over The Top) players including any streaming services that deliver content over the internet, such as Hotstar and Netflix, have made several attempts to create an open regulatory framework for digital content.
The MIB asserted its lack of authorization over online regulation in 2005 and denied seeking any regulations or guidelines. An NGO filed a Public Interest Litigation in 2018 calling for distinct rules to control online content. The Delhi High Court dismissed the PIL and held that the MIB’s opinion that online platforms didn’t need any license to display content or a regulatory framework. Additionally, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (“MeitY”) asserted that since it does not control the content of the internet some provisions of the IT Act would be relevant. The court had further stated that no regulatory authority would be accessible and that Sections 69, 66A, and 67B of the IT Act would apply. It was decided that the IT Act contained enough regulations to justify taking action concerning the online content.
Finally, The Supreme Court gave notice to the Centre in October 2020 via a PIL in which the demand for an independent regulatory framework for online content. OTT platforms, including Hotstar, Netflix, and Prime, adopted self-regulatory rules to direct content producers to meet consumer needs and interests.
Section 69A of the IT Act allows the Central Government to order restrictions on who can access what information online. A framework for exercising due diligence is established by the IT (Intermediary Guidelines) Rules, 2011, which intermediaries must abide by when hosting or publishing content on any of their computer resources. Over-the-top (OTT) platforms may also be subject to the rules.
In the post-COVID-19 era, switching from cable channels to OTT platforms for escapism became quite popular. As a result, there has been an increase in demand for a clear framework that would be used to control intermediaries and online content. The Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 are new regulations under the IT Act that the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology announced after years of discussion. OTT platforms would be referred to as “publishers of online curated content” under the new laws. A Code of Ethics would be enforced and applied to OTT platforms, online news organisations, and digital media companies.
CHANGES THAT DRAFT OFFERS.
The following are the main adjustments that the draft amendments recommend:
- The proposed changes also require that intermediaries take all necessary steps to ensure that all users can access their services with a reasonable expectation of due diligence, privacy, and transparency. In addition, intermediaries need to respect each user’s constitutional rights. The Ministry noted that this change was required because numerous intermediaries had violated citizens’ constitutional rights.
- Mechanism for rebutting grievance officer rulings: Under the 2021 Rules, intermediaries must name a grievance officer to handle complaints about rule violations. The Ministry noted that there had been instances in which these officers have failed to fairly or satisfactorily address complaints. A person who feels wronged by the grievance officer’s decision must go to court to seek justice.
- Accelerated termination of prohibited content: Under the 2021 Rules, intermediaries must acknowledge complaints about rules violations within 24 hours and resolve them within 15 days. The proposed changes require those complaints about removing prohibited content to be resolved within 72 hours. According to the Ministry, a stricter deadline will aid in the prompt removal of prohibited content, given the potential for content to go viral online.
Traditional media content, such as print, television, film, and radio, is governed by specific laws and licence agreements (in the case of TV and radio). These laws ensure that readily available public content reflects community standards. Based on content’s age suitability and potential legality, they also try to limit access to some of it. There are few due to financial costs and specific licence requirements for some operations. The internet has developed into a more widely used platform for distributing news and entertainment content in recent years.
The Intermediary Guidelines are essentially an effort to develop a three-tiered grievance redressal process and a soft-touch, self-regulatory architecture for digital media platforms operating in India. The new laws are intended to establish a self-regulatory framework for internet intermediaries, social media platforms, streaming services, and digital media companies.
The Intermediary Guidelines, are being contested as an attempt to restrict freedom of speech and expression and are expected to be a challenging task for social media and digital media platforms. A delicate balance would be needed to address the difficulties of defending and defending the rights of victims of social media abuse vs individual freedom of expression.