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New I&B Minister takes softer tone on online content regulation, says online news should self-regulate

Rajyavardhan Rathore.

The new Union Minister for Information & Broadcasting, Rajyavardhan Rathore, took a softer tone to online regulation while interacting with the media on Tuesday. Invoking Prime Minister Narendra Modi, he said that news organizations will have to self-regulate, and won’t be regulated by the government. On the subject of online content regulation overall, he simply said that “I think you misunderstood that.”

The minister’s statement comes little over a month after the Ministry formed a committee to regulate both news and entertainment content appearing on the Internet. While Rathore seemed to refer specifically to the news media, it’s unclear what the status of the committee itself is, and whether it will continue to exist.

Emails by MediaNama to all members of the committee sent on Tuesday morning — before Rathore’s statement — asking about the fate of the committee, remain unanswered. We will update this post in case we are able to get a statement.

Excerpts from Rathore’s statement

Rathore seemed to pivot the focus from content regulation to content itself, and brushed away problematic content on social media as something that’s not under the I&B Ministry’s remit:

[…] The Prime Minister is very clear that the media in our country is one of the very important pillars of democracy, and they have to self-regulate. It’s not us versus them, it is we all together, as the eyes and ears of this government. And it’s the people’s voice. So, therefore, be it social media or digital media or the contemporary media, we will continue to work, to strengthen all the structures of democracy and reach out to the entire public with information and awareness. And we’ll continue to do this work. Within the ministry as well, the cadre, the Prasar Bharati, will be strengthened, and in the next one and a half years, the present term of the government, we’ll ensure that there is a high priority given to better programs and more informative programs. Our reach at I&B has been very nice; all through the last four years, we have been able to establish two-way communication with the people of our country, and we’ll continue to do that.

On problems with social media

Social media is going to be social media. It’s going to have all kinds of dialogue. The hope there is that any individual who posts something on social media understands what they are posting. There needs to be value addition. There needs to be value for every person who is reading that content. Social media is totally independent. And in any case, social media doesn’t even come under this ministry. So this issue doesn’t come up in the first place.

What about online content regulation itself?

Before its ill-fated fake news circular and the committee it formed subsequently for regulating online content, the Ministry categorically stated that it does not intend to regulate online content, both in response to RTI applications filed by MediaNama and in response to parliamentary questions.

In a brief interaction after the minister’s statement on Tuesday, a reporter asked the minister, “What is this talk of getting some kind of regulation done, for content which is put on the internet?”

The minister responded in Hindi, simply, “I think you misunderstood that.” He then ended the interaction and left.

Parts of the excerpts quoted above have been translated from Hindi. Watch the full statement here.

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.



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