Home / News / India /  Web-based digital media spreads venomous hatred: Govt tells SC

Web-based digital media such as news portals, magazines and channels run on video hosting platforms like Google Inc-owned YouTube not only spread hatred but can also tarnish the image of individuals, the Centre told the Supreme Court on Monday.

“Apart from spreading venomous hatred, deliberate and intended instigation to not only cause violence but even terrorism, it is also capable of indulging in tarnishing the image of individuals and institutions," the Centre said in an affidavit filed in the Sudarshan TV case.

A three-judge bench headed by Justice DY Chandrachud asked the government to file an affidavit seeking its response on the need to regulate electronic media. The case started when a petition was filed by advocate Firoz Iqbal Khan, who claimed that Sudarshan TV aired a program titled, ‘Bindas Bol’, with derogatory statements about Islam and equated the entry of Muslims in civil services to “infiltration and jihad".

The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (I & B) suggested that web-based digital media should be regulated even before considering rules for print and electronic media as it has wider reach and impact and is “completely uncontrolled".

“It’s ironical that what should be controlled is not being addressed and what cannot and should not be controlled has been squeezed into this. We are seeing spin muddling and master propaganda," said Madhu Trehan, co-founder and editor-in-chief, Newslaundry.

Calling it the parallel media, the government said web portals use spectrum or radio airwaves and internet which are public property. Electronic media uses spectrum to broadcast news on their channels and platforms.

“In a Parliamentary response last week on regulating streaming services, the ministry did not mention its efforts on self-regulation, instead claimed that such platforms were covered by the Information Act, 2000," said Salman Waris, founding partner at TechLegis Advocates & Solicitors.

“The ministry’s silence could be an indication that it does not support the self-regulation code. The Centre via this affidavit has clearly expressed in the open about its desire, if not attempt, to regulate digital media," Waris added.

The ministry said print and electronic media are already regulated and have limitations in terms of the number of readers and viewers whereas web-based digital media remains largely unregulated. Print and broadcast media is taken care of while granting a license.

“Any individual can start his own web-based channel by way of a ‘YouTube channel’ and the only thing he needs is a desire to start and a smart phone which can be used by anyone irrespective of either literacy or having a TV set or DTH (direct-to-home)/cable operator services," the government told the apex court.

The government also said while print and electronic have to meet rigorous eligibility criteria and quality standards for registration, magazines, news portals and channels on web can start operations without taking prior permissions.

Replying to the top court’s question on laying down necessary guidelines for the mainstream electronic and print media, the Centre said it is not required as of now. However, regulatory guidelines must be laid down for web-based digital media, it said.

In November, the draft Registration of Press and Periodicals Bill put out by the information and ministry broadcasting had sought replacing the Press and Registration of Books (PRB) Act, 1867, that governs the print and publishing industry in the country.

“The publishers of news on digital media shall register themselves with the Registrar of Newspapers for India in such manner and giving such particulars as may be prescribed," the draft legislation said.

Digital publishers deemed the proposed Bill unnecessary and sought clarity on whether it was for only web versions such as e-papers of print media or applied to digital-only news sites as well. They also said this was an attack on the freedom of digital-only news portals.

Lata Jha contributed to the story.

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