Editors Guild of India protests govt attempt to curb press freedom

Indian Government issues digital media rules

World Press Freedom Index 2020|Editors Guild of India
India slips another two places in the World Press Freedom Index 2020 Graphic via Internet Bankers Adda

On 25 February 2021, the Press Information Bureau of the Government of India under its Ministry of Electronics & IT notified its Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021. The notification is supposedly about the need to rein in malpractices associated with social media on the internet but has also brought under its ambit both digital media and digital news media.

The Supreme Court of India recently reiterated the fundamental right of free speech guaranteed by the constitution and also commented that dissent and criticism of the government cannot be called sedition or ‘anti-national.’ We are reproducing the first three paragraphs of the notification which is available on the internet. On 5 March 2021, the Editors Guild of India issued the following letter signed by its three office bearers which we are reproducing in its entirety below. Note that the letter says that the government has not consulted stakeholders while the notification by the Press Information Bureau claims that it has consulted stakeholders over the past one and a half years.

On 25 February 2021, the Press Information Bureau of the Government of India, under the Ministry of Electronics & IT issued a notification called the –

Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021

The first three paragraphs of the notification read: “Amidst growing concerns around lack of transparency, accountability and rights of users related to digital media and after elaborate consultation with the public and stakeholders, the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021 has been framed in exercise of powers under section 87 (2) of the Information Technology Act, 2000 and in supersession of the earlier Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines) Rules 2011.

“While finalizing these Rules, both the Ministries of Electronics and Information Technology and Ministry of Information and Broadcasting undertook elaborate consultations among themselves in order to have a harmonious, soft-touch oversight mechanism in relation to social media platform as well as digital media and OTT platforms etc.

“Part- II of these Rules shall be administered by Ministry of Electronics and IT, while Part-III relating to Code of Ethics and procedure and safeguards in relation to digital media shall be administered by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.”

Editors Guild of India letter, signed by its three office-bearers, issued on 5 March 2021

“Dear Friends,

“The Editors Guild of India [EGI] is deeply concerned about the notification of Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021. The Rules, issued under the Information Technology Act, 2000, fundamentally alter how publishers of news operate over the Internet and have the potential to seriously undermine media freedom in India.

“They empower the Union Government to block, delete, or modify published news anywhere in the country without any judicial oversight and mandate all publishers to establish a grievance redressal mechanism. Various provisions in these rules can place unreasonable restrictions on digital news media, and consequently media at large.

“The EGI is concerned that the Government did not consult stakeholders before notifying these far-reaching rules. The Guild urges the Government to put the rules in abeyance and conduct meaningful consultation with all stakeholders.

“The government must take note of the fact that in the name of reining [in] an unfettered social media it cannot overwhelm India’s constitutional safeguards for free media that has been the cornerstone of our democracy.”

Thanks and wishes, Seema Mustafa, President
Sanjay Kapoor, General Secretary
Anant Nath, Treasurer 

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