The Joint Parliamentary Committee’s report on the Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019 has recommended the creation of a statutory authority for the regulation of content on all media platforms.
“[…]The committee recommends that a statutory media regulatory authority, on the lines of the press council of India, may be set up for the regulation of the contents on all such media platforms irrespective of where their content is published, whether online, print, or otherwise,” reads the report.
The JPC’s recommendation could lead to new liabilities and compliance requirements for social media platforms, streaming platforms, and news media organisations.
Possible reasons for the recommendation
The committee made the following observations about the functioning of social media platforms:
Functioning as publishers: Social media platforms can select the receiver and control access to any content on their platform, the JPC report said. It also noted that contrary to social media platforms, electronic and print media take responsibility for their content.
Ineffectiveness of IT Act, 2000: The legislation has failed to keep up with the changing social media ecosystem, the report said.
What prompted the committee’s review of social media platforms?
At the outset, the committee identified 13 “key areas of concern” with social media intermediaries. These are:
- Transparency and accountability of social media platforms
- Categorisation of such platforms as intermediaries
- Profiling of personal data by such platforms
- Instances of discriminatory use of AI by such platforms
- Ongoing investigations of such platforms in countries other than India
- Privacy and content policy of such social media intermediaries
- Intermingling of social media platforms and other OTT platforms
- Ability to influence large segment of population through the use of AI
- Anonymous publication of content on such platforms
- Obscene and other illegal content
- Criteria adopted by social media platforms for removal of content
- Code of Ethics for social media platforms
India’s IT Rules
The Information Technology (IT) Rules, 2021 are applicable to (i) internet and social media intermediaries (ii) digital news and (iii) OTT streaming services. The Rules have provisions related to proactive content moderation, transparency requirements, self-regulatory requirements, traceability mandate, government requests, and more. Here’s a brief look at what has gone on with the IT Rules so far:
- May 2021: MeitY enacted the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021.
- August 2021: The Bombay High Court stayed provisions that required digital news publishers to create a three-tier grievance mechanism and to observe a Code of Ethics.
- September 2021: MeitY told the Madras High Court that 19 petitions had been filed challenging the IT Rules in various high courts. Later that month, the Madras HC stayed provisions that require social media platforms to take down content that violates norms (including a defamation clause that petitioners took specific issue with) and deprive intermediaries of protection from content posted by users in case of non-compliance.
- November 2021: MeitY finally released a set of Frequently Asked Questions, in response to stakeholder demand for clarification on the rules. However, it still has various inconsistencies.
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