- TMedia outlets are against the IT guidelines because they believe it will limit press freedom by giving the government omnipotent power over news content.
- According to the Centre, the right to free speech and expression is essential for a vibrant democracy like India, people “cannot be considered as passive consumers.”
The central government has supported the new IT Rules for digital media, claiming that fake and misleading audio-visual news on digital media has recently resulted in the deaths of innocent people even as laws to regulate such content.
The Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 (IT Rules, 2021) are opposed by media outlets because they believe the rules violate the IT Act while also limiting press freedom by giving the government unlimited power over news content.
The media outlets claimed that the new IT Rules “virtually dictate” material to news portals, infringing on Articles 14 and 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. They asserted that, in response to a complaint, the State has the authority to enter and regulate news and opinions through deletion, alteration, or blockage, censure, compelled apologies, and other means.
In its counter-affidavit, the Centre stated that “The provision for directions to the publisher regarding deletion/modification of content is in the interest of transparency, and allows the publishers to challenge such orders before the courts of law, thereby acting as a further safeguard in the interest of freedom of speech.”
While claiming that there have been “past incidents of disinformation on digital media leading to disruption of public order,” the Centre claims that digital media “allows sensational content to be re-circulated in a different context leading to misinterpretation by the audience,” making it vulnerable to being used as fake news.
As per the affidavit, “With easy access to a smartphone, cheap internet data and a social media account, users not only share stories which directly impact them but also views and opinions which shape the democratic discourse. ” The affidavit adds, “Individuals or groups can use digital media with very low barriers of entry or regulation to disseminate false, sensationalist or misleading news over the internet, which can then be rapidly transmitted among the people.”
“Online platforms, for commercial reasons, may have a tendency to retain the consumer on their platform for a longer period. As a result, news content that appears to be sensational proliferates and spreads. The risk of false or misleading information is greater over the internet as the same can be spread rapidly within the society, the affidavit noted.
The Quint and Pravda Media Foundation, which runs AltNews and The Wire, have filed petitions against the new IT Rules. The Madras High Court is also considering a similar plea brought by a larger group of publishing companies under the aegis of the Digital News Publishers Association (DNPA).