NEW DELHI: The Government on Thursday laid down rules to regulate the content of social media and OTT (Over-the-top) platforms like Amazon Prime and Netflix.
It has hailed the framework as "a soft-touch self-regulatory architecture and a code of ethics and three-tier grievance redressal mechanism for news publishers, OTT platforms and digital media." It was further described as "progressive, liberal and contemporaneous."
Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, Instagram and Wechat are, as of now, not responsible for the contents circulated on their platforms, but the new rules notified by the Ministry of Electronics & IT require them to not only trace the persons who have mounted the content but also take action against the violator of the rules within 24 hours.
By seeking out the first originator of the messages, the government hopes to tackle fake news.
A ministry press note said: "Social media platforms are welcome to do business in India, but they need to follow the Constitution and the laws.
The platforms can certainly be used for asking questions and criticise. They have empowered ordinary users, but they also need accountability against misuse and abuse."
USERS' LAMENT: The users of social media, which are the internet-based applications, are upset since their identity is today protected by the companies. But now the government wants to gag the social media, which allows the people to post texts or comments, digital photos or videos and data without any government control. The new rules, they fear, will hit the social media that empowers the common Indians with the power of technology.
WhatsApp has the largest footprint of 53 crore users in India, followed by YouTube (44.8 crore), Facebook (41 crore), Instagram (21 crore) and Twitter (1.75 crore).
OTT RATINGS: Since the OTT services do not come under the purview of the Censor Board, the new rules require the films to be vetted and given a rating of "U" and "A" before being streamed.
The government's claim is that streaming of uncensored films on OTT can cause communal, social and caste violence. It says many countries are putting checks in place to protect the people from misleading and false information.
As regards the curbs on OTTs, the government said: "The guidelines have been framed keeping in mind the difference between viewership in a theatre, as against watching it on Internet"
It is asserted that the new rules focus more on an in-house and self-regulation mechanism, whereby a robust grievance redressal mechanism has been provided, while upholding journalistic and creative freedom.
The government has taken a cue from the self-regulation regime of the electronic media and the Press Council to formulate a 3-tier mechanism. The draft of the rules was in circulation since early this week, but it was formally notified only on Thursday.
The Centre had informed Parliament early this month that IT (Information Technology) rules are being amended to make social media platforms more responsive.
The first tier of the regulatory mechanism will be a grievance redressal system set up by the company itself; if the complainants are not satisfied with its conclusions, they can approach a Press Council of India-type of regulatory body to be headed by a retired Supreme Court or High Court judge.
An inter-ministerial committee will be set up, which can independently take up cases on its own or on complaint, without having to depend on the first two tiers of the proposed regulatory mechanism.
Every social media platform will have to create a new post of a chief compliance officer, who would be responsible for issues of compliance and who will be held liable if the intermediary fails to observe due diligence while discharging its duties.
5-YEAR JAIL: The rules contemplate jail of not less than five years to the first originator of the information mounted on social media which impinges on sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, or public order.
The onus for identifying the original culprit rests on the intermediary and the rules say the intermediary shall not be required to disclose the contents of any message or any other information to the first originator, thus disabling the person concerned from taking the legal course.
CODE OF ETHICS: It prescribes the guidelines to be followed by OTT platforms and online news and digital media entities. Publishers of news on digital media would have to observe the norms of journalistic conduct of the Press Council of India and the programme code under the Cable Television Networks Regulation Act to ensure a level-playing field between Print, TV and digital media.