The Government of India today announced new rules to regulate digital content and establish what it called a “soft touch progressive institutional mechanism with level-playing field” featuring a Code of Ethics and a three-tier grievance redressal framework for news sites and OTT platforms. The rules will empower users of social media, said Union IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad.
The Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 prescribes, for the first time, how digital news organisations, social media platforms and OTT streaming services will be regulated by the government. The rules include a strict oversight mechanism involving several ministries and a code of ethics that bans content affecting “the sovereignty and integrity of India” and that which threatens national security.
Here’s your 10-point cheatsheet to this big story:
1. Social media giants will be required to appoint India-based compliance officers. If they remove content, they will be required to inform users, give reasons for taking down their post and hear them out.
2. Social media sites have to disclose “first originator” of any mischievous message. “Who began the mischief? You have to say,” said Mr Prasad, adding that this would apply for spreading content for which the punishment is up to five years.
3. The oversight mechanism will include a committee with representatives from the ministries of Defence, External Affairs, Home, I&B, Law, IT and Women and Child Development. It will have “suo motu powers” to call hearings on complaints of violation of the Code of Ethics if it wants.
4. The government will designate an officer of the rank of a Joint Secretary or above as the “Authorised Officer” who can direct blocking of content. If an appellate body believes that the content violates the law, it is empowered to send the content to a government-controlled committee for blocking orders to be issued.
5. Self-classification for streaming services on content that is for 13-plus, 16-plus or adults on the basis of age sex, violence and nudity. A mechanism for ensuring children do not access content not approved for them.
6. Digital news media will follow rules under the Press Council of India. New websites will have to be registered on the Information and Broadcasting Ministry site.
7. The rules bar social media content that is defamatory, obscene, libelous, racist, harmful to minors, threatens the unity, integrity, defence, security or sovereignty of India and its ties with other countries. Social media sites have to remove or disable offensive or illegal content within 36 hours of being notified or of a court order.
8. Companies have to appoint a grievance officer to receive, acknowledge and resolve complaints within a month. Tech giants will also have to appoint grievance officers.
9. An intermediary has to, within 24 hours of a complaint, remove or disable access to content that is illegal or offensive.
10. A three-tier mechanism to enforce the Code of Ethics: self-regulation; self-regulation by the self-regulating bodies; government’s oversight mechanism.