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The Information Technology Act And Media Law

         The Information Technology Act And Media Law. 

India, like all countries, is increasingly facing a situation where legal frameworks that made sense before the explosive growth of the internet are proving incomplete or in some cases being re-purposed as blunt instruments of state power. Reforms are urgently needed, and the pressure for reform begins with awareness. This is the first in a series of posts seeking to raise popular understanding of issues of Indian law.

     The Information Technology Act, 2000 (also known as ITA-2000, or the IT Act) is an Act of the Indian Parliament (No 21 of 2000) notified on 17 October 2000. It is the primary law in India dealing with cybercrime and electronic commerce. Secondary or subordinate legislation to the IT Act includes the Intermediary Guidelines Rules 2011 and the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021.

     Section 66A of the IT Act has been enacted to regulate the social media law India and assumes importance as it controls and regulates all the legal issues related to social media law India. This section clearly restricts the transmission, posting of messages, mails, comments which can be offensive or unwarranted. The offending message can be in form of text, image, audio, video or any other electronic record which is capable of being transmitted. In the current scenarios such sweeping powers under the IT Act provides a tool in the hands of the Government to curb the misuse of the Social Media Law India in any form.

  • Social media intermediaries, with registered users in India above a notified threshold, have been classified as significant social media intermediaries (SSMIs).  SSMIs are required to observe certain additional due diligence such as appointing certain personnel for compliance, enabling identification of the first originator of the information on its platform under certain conditions, and deploying technology-based measures on a best-effort basis to identify certain types of content.


  • The Rules prescribe a framework for the regulation of content by online publishers of news and current affairs content, and curated audio-visual content.


  • All intermediaries are required to provide a grievance redressal mechanism for resolving complaints from users or victims.  A three-tier grievance redressal mechanism with varying levels of self-regulation has been prescribed for publishers.


Key features

  • Digital Media Publishers: The 2021 Rules prescribe certain requirements for online publishers of: (i) news and current affairs content which include online papers, news portals, aggregators and agencies; and (ii) curated audio-visual content, which is defined as a curated catalogue of audio-visual content (excluding news and current affairs) which is owned by, licensed by, or contracted to be transmitted by publishers and available on demand.  The Rules institute a three-tier structure for regulating these publishers: (i) self-regulation by publishers, (ii) self-regulation by associations of publishers, and (iii) oversight by the central government.
     

  • Code of Ethics: For publishers of news and current affairs, the following existing codes will apply: (i) norms of journalistic conduct formulated by the Press Council of India, and (ii) programme code under the Cable Television Networks Regulation Act, 1995.  For online publishers of curated content, the Rules prescribe the code of ethics.  This code requires the publishers to: (i) classify content in specified age-appropriate categories, restrict access of age-inappropriate content by children, and implement an age verification mechanism, (ii) exercise due discretion in featuring content affecting the sovereignty and integrity of India, national security, and likely to disturb public order, (iii) consider India’s multiple races and religions before featuring their beliefs and practices, and (iv) make content more accessible to disabled persons.

  • Grievance redressal: Any person aggrieved by the content of a publisher may file a complaint with the publisher, who must address it within 15 days.  If the person is not satisfied with the resolution, or the complaint is not addressed within the specified time, the person may escalate the complaint to the association of publishers, who must also address the complaint within 15 days.  The complaint will be considered by an inter-departmental committee constituted by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting if: (i) escalated by the complainant or the association under certain conditions, or (ii) referred by the Ministry itself.  
     

  • Oversight by Ministry: The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting will: (i) publish a charter for self-regulating bodies, including Codes of Practices, (ii) issue appropriate advisories and orders to publishers; (iii) have powers to block content on an emergency basis (subject to review by the inter-departmental committee).  Any directions for blocking content will be reviewed by a committee headed by the Cabinet Secretary.

In 2015, in a landmark judgments upholding the right to free speech in recent times, the Supreme Court in Shreya Singhal and Ors. Vs Union of India , struck down Section 66A of the Information & Technology Act, 2000. The ruling which is being lauded by the common man and legal luminaries alike, found the Cyber law provision to be open-ended, vague and unconstitutional owing to the restriction it caused to the Indian citizens’ right to free speech.


In conclusion censorship in certain limited circumstances. This is a problem as due to the global nature of the Internet, it is very difficult to control content being uploaded in foreign countries and being viewed in India. Further, the thorny issue of who gets to decide to censor content and under what circumstances is a nuanced debate – which unfortunately tends to be hijacked by arguments based on security concerns / need for broad emergency provisions. Most attempts at censorship have therefore been haphazard and inconsistent.
            Further, issues raised by communal, defamatory and violent content (particularly towards women) continue to receive very little attention. Particularly worrying is the lack of accountability, transparency and oversight in the system. One hopes that the Supreme Court will take appropriate action by striking down the relevant provisions in the IT Act thereby forcing the legislature and executive to put in place a more open, equitable and just systems of censorship that truly abides by the Constitutional spirit embodied in A 19(1)(a).


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