WhatsApp, Twitter, others, have placed journalism in the hands of citizens: Parl panel
With WhatsApp, Twitter and others under the spotlight, Parl panel says govt must ensure code of ethics is followed in digital media space.
Observing that social media platforms have placed journalism in the hands of citizens, a parliamentary panel on Wednesday asked the government to ensure code of ethics is followed in the digital media space while preserving the right to freedom of expression. The panel observed that social media platforms, like Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Twitter, etc. have placed journalism in the hands of the citizens. Citizens use their personal recording devices including cell phones to capture events and post them on the internet, it noted.
The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Communications and Information Technology in its 27th report on 'Ethical Standards in Media Coverage', presented in Parliament, impressed upon the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) “to ensure that adequate consultations take place with all stakeholders and that oversight of digital media may be exercised while fully preserving their right to freedom of expression.”
The panel also considered the issue of unregulated content made available through online and OTT (over-the-top) platforms “which had hitherto escaped any architecture of regulation.”
“During the Covid pandemic, more and more people have resorted to these platforms due to closure of cinema halls. The committee is conscious that the information and content portrayed on such platforms can impact viewers, including minor children,” it said.
“At the same time, the committee acknowledges that OTT platforms offer freedom to the individual user to decide what to watch, a freedom that should not be abridged by the heavy hand of government,” the panel said.
Referring to the latest 'The Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021' notified in February this year, the panel said it hoped that the new rules and guidelines would go a “long way in ensuring transparency and accountability for social media platforms with a robust oversight mechanism by the government.”
It also hoped that the MIB along with the Ministry of Electronics and Information and Technology will work coherently and in tandem to ensure that the code for ethics is followed by digital media also.
The report said that any regulation must have checks and balances to ensure that it is neither misused nor violative of Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution.
“The committee therefore expects both the ministries to promote better inter-ministerial coordination, systematic awareness creation about these new rules/guidelines, etc., so that the rules are implemented effectively to ensure accountability of online/OTT platforms,” it said.
The panel said that though, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology does not have a record of the number of internet websites in India, according to a popular site, Internetlivestats.com, there are at present more than 150 crore websites across the world and it is expected that around 20 crore out of these are active websites across the world.
The committee noted that in 2017, 2018 and 2019, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology ordered blocking of 1,385, 2,799 and 3,603 URLs, respectively.
The committee also noted that earlier all publications over the internet, including e-newspapers, were governed under the provisions of IT Act, 2000 but the central government had on November 9, 2020 amended the Allocation of Business Rules, 1961 of the MIB.
“…and now MIB has the mandate for digital/online media, that is, for 'Films and Audio-Visual programmes' made available by online content providers and 'News and current affairs' content on online platforms,” it said.
“The committee, while hoping that the new rules will promote accountability, would like to know the extent to which the objective of bringing the notification has been achieved by the Ministry,” it said.
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