India’s new oversight of digital news platforms is causing protests from the media industry and activists who fear that this rule will curb press freedom in the world’s largest democracy.
India has one of the largest and most diversified media industries in the world. Last month, it announced the “Intermediate Guidelines” and the “Code of Ethics for Digital Media”, aimed at pushing large high-tech companies such as Facebook to comply with content removal orders. However, it also extends to news sites.
The rule imposes a three-level supervision mechanism, requires the Ombudsman to resolve complaints, and requires a panel of government experts to conduct extensive supervision. The top government official of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting will also have the power to order content to be blocked.
Media executives worry that such negligence may lead to censorship of content criticized by the government, and three digital news media have filed lawsuits in state courts.
Siddharth Varadarajan, editor of the independent news website “The Wire”, said: “These rules will mark the death of Indian media independence.” Its publisher has challenged the regulations in the Delhi High Court.
A legal news website, LiveLaw, has challenged the provisions of the Kerala High Court, which said this week that it must not take coercive measures for non-compliance with the website.
The government stated that the new regulations aim to achieve parity between digital media and print and television news regulations. The Minister of Information and Broadcasting, Prakash Javadekar, said of the rules of digital media last month, “Every freedom must be a responsible freedom.”
In recent years, the number of online media outlets in India has increased, but some journalists have complained that they are facing intimidation for reporting criticism of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government.
The Modi government stated that it favors freedom of the press.
Zoya Hassan, a former professor of political science at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, said: “I think these rules will restrict and restrict freedom of the press. In fact, freedom is more general.”
“The entire regulation is about the control of digital media and other platforms, because there is little tolerance for dissenting voices.”
Freedom House, a US think tank, recently stated that Modi and his party are pushing India towards “authoritarianism,” and that since he came to power in 2014, political rights and civil liberties have deteriorated. The government called the report “misleading, incorrect and misplaced.”
On Thursday, Javadekar said on Twitter that a group representing major newspapers and television channels welcomed the new regulations and requested that its members be treated “differently” from purely digital news publishers.
This has caused criticism from some smaller digital news media who questioned why they would be ignored when seeking exemptions.
Thomson Reuters 2021 ©