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Code of ethics, dilution of safe harbour prescribed in draft code to regulate social media: Report

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The Indian government has readied draft rules to regulate social media, streaming and OTT platforms, and news websites. The rules will include a code of ethics and will require regular compliance reports from the companies, reported NDTV. The government is also reportedly looking to dilute safe harbour protections afforded to intermediaries. The development comes amid an ongoing — seemingly deescalating — feud between the Indian government and Twitter, over the social media company’s refusal to block accounts in spite of Section 69A orders from the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITY).

The rules reportedly call for the need of a chief compliance officer who would respond round-the-clock to complaints made by law enforcement agencies, and submit regular compliance reports. Sources told the publication that there would be a portal for grievance redressal and a mechanism for oversight. This “oversight mechanism” would be developed by the government, and will “coordinate adherence to Code of Ethics by publishers and self-regulating bodies”. The companies will have 36 hours to remove content flagged by a court or by any other designated body. However, a secretary-rank officer will still be able to take emergency actions.

Diluting safe harbour: The draft rules reportedly propose to “remove, or at least heavily reduce” safe harbour protections provided to intermediaries as part of Section 79 of the Information Technology Act. The proposed rules will make the intermediaries responsible for warning users on what is allowed and what is not. It should be noted that social media platforms already have policies on what is (and isn’t) allowed on their platforms. It is unclear as to what exactly will change according to the draft rules. A government note, on its part, has reportedly said that the legal framework will foster “freedom with accountability” with a “light touch framework”.

I&B and IT ministries collaborating on guidelines

Only the previous day, IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had said in Parliament that he and I&B minister Prakash Javadekar were “revisiting the guidelines” on social media platforms, and would present it in Parliament after finalising it. In an indication of the regime to come, he said, “When you become a platform, create community guidelines and use those to adjudge what’s right and what’s not, and if these guidelines don’t have any place for India’s rules and Constitution, that is not going to work”.

Meanwhile, earlier this week, Javadekar himself told Parliament that the guidelines for OTT websites is “almost ready”. He said that the issue of OTT platforms “is very important”: “Everyday, we receive both suggestions and complaints on the subject. Guidelines and directives are almost ready, and they will be put in place soon.” This was the clearest indication so far of the government’s desire to take a harder line on regulating streaming services, and to reject the industry’s proposed self-regulation code.

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