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Parliamentary Committee exhorts MIB to implement digital rules with due regard for freedom of expression

The Standing Committee on Information Technology headed by Congress MP Shashi Tharoor while presenting the 25th report on the Demands for Grants (2021-22) of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) has also urged the ministry to launch an awareness campaign about these rules. The report was presented to Lok Sabha on 10th March and was laid in the Rajya Sabha on the same day.

While granting that the new rules under the IT Act 2000 would institutionalise a level-playing field for all other media categories, the committee stated that initiatives, such as updation of mandate and framing of rules for OTT/content on online platforms “should have been concurrent with the emergence and convergence of technology so that valid and genuine concerns are addressed at the nascent stage itself”.

The committee also said that a discussion on the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines of Digital Media Ethics Code), Rules 2021 was necessary in order to put in place a proper oversight mechanism for social-media platforms, digital, and OTT platforms.

The committee, while concurring with the move to bring social media, OTT, and digital news platforms under the regulatory framework, hoped that MIB would take all necessary steps to implement these rules within the framework of promoting creativity and protecting freedom of expression.

The report says the committee also expects MIB to launch an awareness campaign in order to empower citizens to make informed choices about content, get their grievances addressed I good time, and protect children/youth from obnoxious content as well as help to identify and fight fake news on online/digital media. “The committee looks forward to a thorough discussion with the ministry on these Rules,” the report said.

Part-III of IT Rules 2021 relating to the Code of Ethics and procedure and safeguards in relation to digital media will be administered by MIB. The ministry informed the committee that before framing these rules, it had held consultations and studied regulatory models in other countries where it was found that most countries either had an “institutional mechanism to regulate digital content” or were in the process of setting up one.

The I&B ministry assured the IT Committee that the new rules would establish a “soft-touch, progressive institutional mechanism” with a level-playing field, under a Code of Ethics and a three-tier Grievance Redressal framework for news publishers and OTT platforms on the digital media.

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