While announcing new guidelines today for social media companies, OTT platforms, and digital news publishers, union ministers Ravi Shankar Prasad and Prakash Javadekar emphasised the need for "an institutional mechanism" to "regulate all forms of media".
The ministers were addressing a press conference to announce the draft Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 introduced by the ministry of electronics and information technology.
Digital media portals don't have the right to spread "lies and rumours", Javadekar said. "Press freedom is the spirit of democracy, but let me tell you that all freedom has to be responsible freedom."
Javadekar said that regulatory mechanisms and codes are present for print and TV news platforms, but not for digital news portals. He said the new guidelines will provide a "level playing field" to all mediums by bringing digital content under regulation.
According to the new guidelines, publishers of news on digital media will be required to observe the Press Council of India's norms of journalistic conduct, as well as the programme code under the Cable Television Networks Regulation Act.
As for social media platforms, the rules require social media intermediaries like Facebook and Twitter to use tools to remove objectionable content. The rules also mandate messaging platforms like WhatsApp to enable the first originator of a message to be traced.
The government also called for a "grievance redressal system" for OTT platforms and digital news media, who will also have to disclose details on “from where they publish, how they publish, how much is their spread.”
In this regard, I&B secretary Amit Khare told the Indian Express that digital news portals will have to provide the I&B ministry with "details on their editorial head, ownership, address, and designated grievance officer".
"Currently, the government doesn’t have a complete picture of how many players there are in this sector and who they are," Khare told the newspaper. "If you log on to their websites, you won’t even find basic information on their office address or editor-in-chief." The report cited sources as saying that the ministry will "soon release a form that all digital news outlets must fill and submit to the ministry in a month".