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MIB asks media organisations to disclose details under IT Rules, despite court ruling

The move has perplexed organisations like IFF which had sought judicial intervention citing grave constitutional concerns.

The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) served notices asking for details of digital news publishers and OTT platforms under the Information Technology (IT) Rules 2021 weeks after the Bombay High Court stayed key provisions of the rules, an RTI response received by the Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) revealed.

According to IFF, a digital rights organisation, the development is surprising as significant portions of the rules have been challenged and stayed in court. In August and September 2021, the Bombay and Madras High Courts issued interim stay orders against the creation of a grievance redressal mechanism and a code of ethics to be compulsorily followed by media organisations as per the rules.

“Rule 18 is not an end in itself but a means to an end. It is surprising that the government has gone ahead with the provision in spite of the grave constitutional concerns raised with the rules,” Tanmay Singh, Litigation counsel at IFF told MediaNama.

Collecting details under Rule 18 allows the government to regulate the media under the 3-tier grievance redressal mechanism set up by the IT Rules – which have been stayed and thus surprises the IFF, Singh told MediaNama.

The Rules have been criticised and challenged in court for being unconstitutional and giving the government powers broad powers to censor the media.

Ministry dithers on providing more details

The MIB’s response revealed that 2,100 digital news and OTT platforms submitted their details under the rules. However, on several other questions posed by IFF, the Ministry did not provide a direct answer, according to the RTI response viewed by MediaNama. IFF asked for the following:

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  • List of organisations that were sent the notice: The ministry ignored the question.
  • List of organisations that sent their details after the Bombay High Court’s stay (issued on August 14): The ministry said it did not have any information.
  • List of all organisations who have submitted their details under Rule 18: The ministry ignored the question.
  • Authority by which the MIB could issue such notices after the Bombay HC’s order: The ministry refused to divulge information citing Section 2(f) of the Right to Information Act. The section lays down that information under the Act is defined as records in any form – logbooks, electronic files, etc – about a private body that can be accessed by a public body under any law.

What do the IT Rules require?

The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) 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.

Specifically, under Rule 18, news, current affairs, and curated online current affairs content have to submit their details to the MIB and may have to furnish additional documents too if needed, “for the purpose of enabling communication and coordination”. Publishers also have to issue monthly compliance reports mentioning details of the grievances received and the action taken.

Significant roadblocks to the implementation of IT Rules 2021

At least 19 petitions have been filed in various courts challenging the IT Rules, according to a submission by the Union Government in the Madras High court. Last year, the Madras High Court stayed provisions of the rules, hearing Singer TM Krishna and the news collective Digital News Publishers Associations petitions. It observed that:

Prima facie, there is substance in the petitioners’ grievance that an oversight mechanism to control the media by the government may rob the media of its independence and the fourth pillar, so to say, of democracy may not at all be there.

Before that, the Bombay High Court stayed certain provisions noting that its requirements went beyond the scope of the Rules’ parent legislation, the Information Technology Act, 2000, and violates the constitutional right to freedom of expression.

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Written By

I cover health technology for MediaNama, among other things. Reach me at anushka@medianama.com

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.

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