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Need for Regulating Digital Media (22 September 2020)

Need for Regulating Digital Media (22 September 2020)

Why in News:

In a counter Affidavit filed in an ongoing case Centre Govt has said there is a need for regulatory mechanism for web based digital media which has a very wide reach and impact.

Context:

The central government submitted before the Supreme Court on Wednesday that if it desired to undertake the exercise to regulate the media then it should first do so for digital media, and not electronic media, because social platforms have a faster and wider reach.

Background:

The submissions were made in a counter affidavit the government filed in the ongoing case against Sudarshan TV for telecasting its controversial Bindas Bol show, which claims to have unearthed “a conspiracy to infiltrate the civil service by Muslims”.

On September 16, the Supreme Court had restrained Sudarshan News from airing future episodes of its Bindas Bol show. The top court held that the four episodes telecast by the channel from September 11 to 14 have only indulged in vilification of Muslims and called its content “rabid” and “insidious”.

Summary of the Debate

Advantages of Digital Media:

  • Digital or web-based media platforms give a voice to those who can’t afford to open a news channel or start a newspaper as well.
  • Social media platforms describe themselves as technological innovators.
  • It provides platform for a society to learn more, easier and faster.
  • Social media has overthrown the monopolies once enjoyed by only a few influencers of public opinion.

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Challenges:

  • Lack of regulatory body: The broadcast media that is Television has a self-regulatory body called News Broadcasters Association (NBA). Digital media does not have that kind of a regulatory body either of their own or of a government constituent regulatory body.
  • Less number of Reporters: The digital media does not have so many reporters, some outlets don’t have any reporter and even if those who have, the numbers is very small. Therefore, there is no any personal access or first-hand news but have to rely on other sources.
  • Harmful to the society: Once a harmful page is there on the internet, it can actually play havoc, for example; mob lynching attacks, some online games like Blue whale where children being the sufferers.
  • Less experienced: The average age of a reporter in a newsroom or in a website is very less and a very young cannot differentiate between what is good, what is bad or whether it has any relevance with the truth on the ground. So, that filtration problem is very less and very limited with people those who are handling the news.
  • Inadequate numbers: The government does not even have the numbers about how many digital media players outlets are there.
  • Unaccountability: Most of these digital media platforms claim that they are platforms and they are not publishers.

Way Forward:

  • Source of the news: It is very important that source of the news should be checked.
  • Enforcement: There may have the law in place but enforcement is a challenge. Therefore, there is an immediate need of some sort of a due diligence guideline which needs to regulate this space in a more expedient manner.
  • Institutional mechanism: There should be some institutional mechanism like KYC mechanism, some licensing regime because there is no KYC check at all. When you registered a website.
  • Public grievance officer: Every website is supposed to have a public grievance officer and they are supposed to comply with data protection or some basic guidelines.
  • Self-regulated body: A self-regulated body with internet community should come together on a self-regulation basis.
  • Grievance redressal mechanism: If there is any portal which is blocked because of something which is contrary to the norms, then they should be having a provision to appeal to the forum and get their redressal done.
  • Applying same Law: The damage that can be caused or the reasons for regulation which are there for the print media would apply to digital media much more than what it does to the print media or to the electronic media. So, being digital should not give any immunity from regulation as far as abiding to the laws and the conventions of the society is concerned.
  • PPP Model: There should be some government private entity collaboration where things like these can be tackled.
  • It is right time to bring in some sort of regulatory mechanism to protect the interest of the internet community at large, otherwise, frauds and problems like fake news cannot be tackled.

Important points made by the Guests

Abhishek Singh, CEO, MyGov, GoI 

  • The nuance here is that the digital media platforms, whether it’s Google or Facebook or WhatsApp or Twitter or any other digital media platform that we use today, they say that it is a place where they offer to people to come and to post what they want to post. They are providers of platform but they are not providers of the content which is there. Hence, they are not like a publisher. So, that has been their argument across the world whether it’s in India or USA.
  • Whereas, in the case of electronic media or a print media domain, the publishers are someone who exercise editorial rights over what actually goes on electronic media channel or a print media channel.
  • Since millions of people share stories there, to do a real time editing as it is done on a print media or electronic media, is technically very challenging. So, what they do is that they very often deploy technology which is AI (Artificial Intelligence) driven, which filters out violent content which is related to pornography or exploitation or anything which is racial. These kinds of contents they say that they are filtering out.
  • But there have been allegations of bias in filtering out content. So, there are some content which is filtered out and some content which is not filtered out.
  • The Government of India’s affidavit in the Supreme Court says that ‘Most of these platforms do need to be regulated in order to ensure that the content they are showing is something which is not violating any laws, it is not creating hate speech which is not leading to sexually promiscuous depiction of women or child pornography'. So, these things have to be regulated.
  • Anything that is in a digital domain and which has a reach, which is far beyond the print media or the electronic media today and anything that is posted on a link or on a web news portal can be shared by multiple people over WhatsApp groups or multiple groups and it can really spread news. If they are indulging in to any news publication then they should be subject to the same guidelines that applies to the print media.
  • If somebody is launching a service which is almost like a news portal or indulge in sharing of news and if there are any restrictions for other modes or medium for communication, the similar thing should apply to the launched service.
  • Since all the websites which are registered, they follow certain protocol with the domain service providers, they can be said that if you are in the business, you have to apply to that and there will be norms that can be done. Once everyone agrees to that there is a need for regulation, then a mechanism of creating an autonomous body or creating an independent body for self-regulation can come in, which can have representatives of everyone.

Sanjay Singh, Senior Journalist 

  • The issue came in Supreme Court for Sudarshan TV Bindas bol program.
  • There is always a tendency to sensationalize the news and more so the few prominent websites and there are whole lot of other websites where everyday people running something, writing something, putting out a video and giving that kind of link on their YouTube, Facebook, etc.
  • The government has said, not about regulating Twitter, Facebook and other outlets because that as it is regulated by something else. The government contention is about the proliferation of websites and kind of things that are put out there in name of journalism.
  • In name of fake news busters and fact checkers, few particular sites themselves indulge in great deal of fake news. Therefore, there is need to be some kind of mechanism like the difference between sensor board and OTT platforms.

Karnika Seth, Advocate, Cyber Law

  • Internet is borderless and anonymity is inherent in it and the criminals online use it as a heaven. It’s basically fake accounts, fake news or other activities perpetrate very easily and with a lot of damage, especially if it is a defamation action or if there are any kind of false news or other publish material which are objectionable or illegal, that becomes a technical challenge of tracing who the person is.
  • Licensing is another issue because like newspaper, the online media space does not have any kind of online licensing regime in place which calls for compliance of various laws.
  • All the laws which are in the offline media, for example; defamation are applicable also to the online space, barring the licensing part, otherwise the effect of that if it is causing a defamation for example, there is an action possible and there the social media liability is also invoked if they have been brought to actual notice that this is a defamatory post or this is an objectionable post on your website or your portal and asking them to remove that, they are supposed to do that within 36 hours.
  • In the Shreya Singhal judgment, the Supreme Court made a clarification and basic application of what is their liability to say that. They are liable on a government agency’s order or if a court has ordered to take down and if it has not been taken down, then the social media agencies are liable because there are millions of pages which are being uploaded on their site every day and for them to decide whether this is legal or illegal becomes difficult because it could be subjective.
  • So, from that point of view, it has been said that once this issue is brought before their knowledge, they have to respond within 36 hours and only when they have an order from the court or a government agency, they will be required to take it down. Now that creates problem because it takes very long to get to that stage when the damage has already been caused and not everybody especially a common man can actually do that.

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