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IT Parliamentary Committee discussed internet shutdowns in Delhi, Bihar

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The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology discussed the impact of internet shutdowns earlier today, Chairperson Shashi Tharoor tweeted. As per the schedule, the Committee heard representations from the Union Home Ministry, and state governments of Delhi and Bihar. At least ten members attended the meeting.

To curb protests against the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act, the central government had snapped internet services in the national capital in December 2019. Both Airtel and Vodafone at the time had confirmed that the government had ordered internet shutdown in the part of Delhi NCR along with suspension of voice and SMS services. That was the first internet shutdown in Delhi. Bihar has had its internet services shut down at least 11 times since 2016, as per SFLC.in’s tracker.

India has already had 65 internet shutdowns in 2020, not counting the 14-month shutdown in Jammu and Kashmir. So far, 4G internet services have only been restored in two of 20 districts of the new union territory.

This is not the first time the Tharoor-led Committee has discussed internet shutdowns. It had discussed the impact of shutdown in Jammu and Kashmir in August. At that time, it had turned into a partisan debate about whether or not restrictions on speed of internet meant an infringement of human rights. For its 2020-21 session, internet shutdowns is one of the key issues that the Committee will discuss.

‘TRPs not calculated in a scientific method,’ members unanimously agree

The Committee convened on October 15 to discuss “ethical standards in media coverage” and heard from the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, News Broadcasters Association, Press Council of India and Prasar Bharati.

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In its October 15 meeting, members of the Committee were united in amending the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act of 1995, and programming and advertising codes, the Mint reported. The members discussed the TRP scam, fake news and regulation of media, News18 reported.

The TRP scam — where the Mumbai Police revealed that it was investigation three news channels, including the high-decibel and belligerent Republic TV, for artificially manipulating their Television Rating Points (TRP), the barometer through which the “success” of a TV channel is judged — was also reportedly discussed by the members.

Karti P. Chidambaram, a member of the Committee, asked Tharoor to take up the matter for greater scrutiny, as per the Mint report. Members reportedly agreed that manipulation of TRPs was easy, especially for English channels, since the database is so small, as per News18 and Times of India. All members reportedly agreed that “TRP numbers are not a true reflection of Indian viewership”. MIB told the members that the current method of calculating TRPs is “not very scientific and accurate”, Press Trust of India reported.

Tharoor reportedly said that the issue was discussed in a “bipartisan manner” but on a “complicated subject” such as this, “it is difficult to come up with the solution at once”. The MIB agreed with the arguments made by the members, Hindustan Times reported.

MIB told the Committee that the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC), which releases weekly TRP but has temporarily suspended that in the wake of the scam, will be asked to come up with a new mechanism to measure success of a TV channel, according to News18. MIB, per the same report, is already working on “stringent laws” to regulate media.

The MIB was represented by Secretary Amit Khare, Press Council of India by its chairperson Retired Supreme Court Justice Chandramauli Kumar Prasad, and Prasar Bharati by its CEO Shashi Shekhar Vempati, as per the News18 report.

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The October 15 member was attended by at least 8 members, as per a video shared by Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore. They include Lok Sabha MPs Tharoor, Chidambaram, Bhanu Pratap Singh, Rathore and V.V. Satyanarayan, and Rajya Sabha MPs Syed Zafar Islam, Anil Agrawal, and Nabam Rebia.

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