DigiPub, the association of Indian digital news portals, today stated that the government's new IT rules 'go against the fundamental principle of news and its role in a democracy'.
On Thursday, the government had announced the drafting of the Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 to regulate digital media, OTT and social media platforms.
BOOM Live is one of the founding members of DigiPub.
In a letter to Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting Prakash Javdekar and Union Minister for Electronics and Information Technology Ravi Shankar Prasad, DigiPub has called for the government to hold consultations with the various stakeholders before notifying the new rules.
While welcoming the government's view to get digital media to self-regulate itself, DigiPub has stated that the many of the clauses go against democracy and the media's right to disseminate news and differing opinions.
"While rules and laws already exist to hold news media accountable, the afore said rules enable the executive government to even remove content published as current affairs or news (Rule14.) among other things," the letter reads.
The letter goes on to state that the new rules not only infringe upon a news publication and author's right to expression, but also "the citizen's right to be informed and to have access to differing viewpoints".
"For the executive to have the absolute power to regulate the content of news portals or publications would be to strike not only at the constitutional scheme but at democracy itself," it added.
DigiPub agreed with the government's view that freedom of expression is subject to reasonable restrictions but also pointed out that the restrictions need to be reasonable, fair and just.
"To empower a body of government servants to do so could inhibit the news media for doing its job," the letter reads.
Pointing out that the IT Act, 2000 does not recognise 'news and current affairs content', 'newspaper' and a 'publisher', DigiPub states that the new legislation in the act need not take digital media under its ambit.
DigiPub noted that a meeting was sought with Prakash Javdekar in a letter dated December 2, 2020 but it never received a reply from the Union Minister.
Urging the government to hold repeal or stay the rules for the time being, DigiPub has asked the government to hold consultations with the relevant stakeholders.
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