CJI Flags ‘Communal Content’ in Media

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    • Recently, the Chief Justice of India stated that certain sections of the media communalised everything and this would ultimately result in giving the country a bad name.

    About

    • The remark from the CJI came while hearing petitions highlighting how some media outlets aired communal content linking the spread of the coronavirus to a Tablighi Jamaat meet held at Nizamuddin in Delhi.
    • The hearing witnessed Chief Justice upbraiding the lack of accountability on the part of social media platforms.
    • The court asked the government whether there was any regulatory mechanism in place for the web.
      • Solicitor-General drew the court’s attention to the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, which provide a redressal mechanism and timely resolution of grievances of users of social media and over-the-top platforms. 
      • The Rules require these platforms to appoint a grievance redressal officer who is a resident of India.
      • In the case of complaints against broadcasters, the Cable Television Networks (Amendment) Rules of 2021, were referred. 

    Associated Issues

    • Misuse of Social Media:
      • Vast user base:
        • WhatsApp currently has a user base of 340 million in the country, accounting for the largest number of subscribers in the world. 
        • Facebook has 290 million, Twitter 17 million, YouTube 265 million and Instagram, 120 million user base.
        • With such a huge population dependent on social media platforms, the tech-giants cannot choose to ignore the new and emerging challenges like: 
          • persistent spread of fake news, 
          • rampant abuse of the platforms to share morphed images of women, 
          • deep fakes and other contents that threaten the dignity of women and 
          • pose a threat to security.
          • Instances of use of abusive language, defamatory contents and hate speech in these platforms have become very common. 
      • Supreme Court Intervention:
        • In view of such emerging challenges, the Supreme Court in 2018, in the Tehseen S. Poonawalla v/s Union of India case, directed the government to curb and stop dissemination of explosive messages and videos on various social media platforms which have a tendency to incite mob violence and lynching of any kind.
        • The Court in 2017 observed that the government may frame necessary guidelines to eliminate child pornography, rape and gang rape imageries, videos and sites in content hosting platforms and other applications.
      • Rules as per Court’s Directives:
        • The new rules are thus in accordance with the previous Supreme Court observations. 
        • As per the rules, intermediaries are mandated to remove or disable contents that are against the safety and dignity of individuals within 24 hours of receiving complaints
    • Technological Hurdles with Respect to Traceability:
      • Breaking end to end encryption:
        • Social media companies like WhatsApp have expressed apprehensions about the provisions in the new rules which require them to identify traceability when required to do so by authorities. 
        • They contend that this could possibly lead to the breaking of end-to-end encryption, which in turn can compromise users’ privacy.
      • Government’s Stand:
        • The government, on the other hand, has stated that traceability would only be required in case of “very serious offences” that threaten the sovereignty and integrity of India. 
        • Further, it could also be implemented without breaking the end-to-end encryption. The onus, however, will lie on the companies to find a technological solution for the same.
    • The Free Speech Debate
      • The social media giant, Twitter, has raised concerns regarding free speech over the new IT guidelines. It stated that it would strive to comply with the law but if guided by principles of transparency and freedom of expression under the rule of law
      • The government insists that the rules are neither arbitrary nor sudden, since the draft rules were put up for public comments and several individuals, industrial associations and organizations had responded. 
      • The comments were then analysed in detail and an inter-ministerial meeting was also held before finalising them.

    Way Ahead

    • Freedom of speech and expression is the basic tenet of any democracy. However, no freedom is absolute or completely unrestricted. 
    • The imperative of striking the right balance between fundamental rights and ascertaining the reasonableness of a restriction has been a constant effort since the adoption of the Constitution. The debate has now reached the digital world. 
    • The on-going tussle between private tech giants who own a substantial amount of Big Data, governments and users worried about issues relating to data privacy, is likely to get more complicated before optimum solutions can be arrived at. 
    • The IT Rules 2021 seek to address concerns of the citizens without infringing on their privacy and personal liberties, while maintaining digital sovereignty at the same time.

    Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021

    • Ministry: 
      • The Rules were released by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) in February. 
    • Recent Developments:
      • Social Media intermediaries were given a three-month period to comply with the new rules.
      • Companies like Google, Facebook, WhatsApp, Telegram, Koo, Sharechat, and LinkedIn have shared details with MeitY as per the requirement of the new norms. 
      • Twitter sought an extension of the compliance window and called for a constructive dialogue and a collaborative approach from the government to safeguard freedom of expression of the public. 
      • WhatsApp also filed a case in the Delhi High Court against the government on grounds that the new rules violated customer privacy. The new Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code have also been challenged by entities like The Wire, LiveLaw and The Quint.
    • Aim of the Rules:
      • The IT Rules 2021 aim to empower ordinary users of social media platforms and OTT platforms with a mechanism for redressal and timely resolution of their grievances with the help of a Grievance Redressal Officer (GRO) who should be a resident in India. 
      • Special emphasis has been given on the protection of women and children from sexual offences, fake news and other misuse of social media.
    • First originator of information:
      • Identification of the “first originator of the information” would be required in case of an offence related to sovereignty and integrity of India.  
      • A Chief Compliance Officer, a resident of India, also needs to be appointed and that person shall be responsible for ensuring compliance with the Act and Rules. 
      • A monthly compliance report mentioning the details of complaints received and action taken on the complaints would be necessary.
    • Code of ethics for OTT etc:
      • The OTT platforms, online news and digital media entities, on the other hand, would need to follow a Code of Ethics. 
      • OTT platforms would be called ‘publishers of online curated content’ under the new rules. 
      • They would have to self-classify the content into five categories based on age and use parental locks for age above 13 or higher. 
      • They also need to include age verification mechanisms for content classified as ‘Adult’.
    • Grievance redressal:
      • A three-level grievance redressal mechanism has been mandated. 
      • This includes:
        • the appointment of a GRO, 
        • self-regulatory bodies registered with the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (MIB) to look after the Code of Ethics and 
        • a Charter for the self-regulating bodies formulated by MIB.
    • Not restricted but in Due procedure of Law:
      • While the new rules were challenged by many on grounds of violation of free speech, the government has clarified that these rules permit social media platforms to operate in India freely but with due accordance to the law. 
      • Every entity has to abide by the Constitution of the country and the Rule of Law. 
      • Also, as per Article 19 of the Constitution, freedom of speech and expression is not absolute and is subject to reasonable restrictions, especially in case of a threat to national sovereignty and security.
    • In case of non compliance:
      • Failure to comply with the rules could lead to the removal of ‘intermediary’ status (a safe harbour to avoid liability for the content that their users publish) of the companies.
      • It could possibly invite sanction or even punishment under the law. 
      • Social media giants such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and WhatsApp messenger could face a ban if they do not comply with the new Information Technology rules.

    Cable Television Networks (Amendment) Rules of 2021

    • The Rules provide for a three-level grievance redressal mechanism — 
      • self-regulation by broadcasters, 
      • self-regulation by the self-regulating bodies of the broadcasters, 
      • oversight by an Inter-Departmental Committee at the level of the Central government.
    • When a complaint is filed by a Viewer, the Broadcaster has to reply within the time limit of 15 days.
      • If the complainant is not dealt with, the complaint can be escalated to the self-regulating bodies set up by TV channels. Time limit for tem is 60 days.
    • Oversight Mechanism: If the complainant is not satisfied with the decision of the self-regulating body, he may, within 15 days of such decision, prefer an appeal to the Central Government for its consideration.
      • These appeals will be dealt by the Inter-Departmental Committee set up under the Oversight Mechanism.
      • The committee will be headed by the Additional Secretary in the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, and have members from various ministries.

    Source: TH