New Delhi: Over a hundred journalists and online media professionals wrote to union minister of information and broadcasting Smriti Irani opposing the ministry’s proposal to extend traditional broadcasting rules and regulations to the Internet. On 4 April 2018, the government had issued an order seeking to establish content regulations for the Internet, modelled on the ones currently applicable to traditional media like print and television. Apart from seeking to constitute a committee to frame an appropriate regulatory framework, the order sought the guidelines to be sourced from The Programming & Advertising Code for TV channels put in place by the government, and the norms circulated by traditional media associations such as Press Council of India, News Broadcasters’ Association and Indian Broadcasting Foundation for their members.
The note to the minister has been signed by both veterans of the industry like Raghav Bahl, Madhu Trehan, Nalini Singh, Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, Sanjay Pugalia, Aniruddha Bahal and Raman Kirpal, among others, as well as younger media entrepreneurs like Dhanya Rajendran (The News Minute), Ritu Kapur (The Quint), Tanmay Bhat (All India Bakchod) and Bharat Nayak (The Logical Indian).
In their letter to the minister, the journalists argued against the ministry’s assertion that there are no norms and guidelines for content on the Internet. “Even a cursory reading of the IT Act would reveal that all content is covered under its scope. The Act in fact goes beyond laying down guidelines, and incorporates stiff punishments for those who violate the content norms laid down in it. Similarly, several other laws, such as the Indian Penal Code, also contain clear dos and don’ts for sharing of content, including over the Internet. Therefore, to say that there are no norms and guidelines for content online is contrary to facts," it noted.
They argued that bringing legacy media structures such as licensing and content regulation to the online space could have a drastic impact on the medium credited for making the media and information landscape free and democratic across the world.
Madhu Trehan, co-founder of digital news platform NewsLaundry, said the proposal to regulate the Internet must be a consultative process in the most open and transparent way. “Regulating the Internet is a tricky thing. Its impact is enormous and far reaching," she said.
Raghav Bahl, founder of Network18 and Quintillion Media, said the government must look at the approach taken by other democracies in dealing with issues of online content. “Any hasty action by the government will likely result in overreach," he said.
“...we believe that the starting point for the government should be to study the global best practices for online content regulation. Many advanced democracies have already debated this and come up with good frameworks that ensure free speech and transparent regulation. (There’s) no need to reinvent the wheel," he added.