At least five news organisations and aggregators— Scroll, The Wire, Newslaundry, The News Minute and DailyHunt — launched grievance portals on their respective websites and have appointed grievance officers in accordance with the Indian government’s new regulations for news publishers and intermediaries. Under the Information Technology Rules 2021, the government expanded its executive powers to oversee news and current affairs content published online.
Under the rules, every news and current affairs publisher has follow a strict grievance redressal mechanism and join a self-regulatory mechanism. They have to appoint a grievance redressal officer who who will have to respond to a grievance and make a decision within 15 days. If the complainant is unsatisfied with how their grievance was handled, they can raise the issue with a SRO or a government appointed Inter-Departmental Committee. The committee, which is headed by the Information and Broadcasting Ministry (I&B), can take action against publishers for the news and current affairs content they publish or broadcast.
The new rules extend the government’s powers under Section 69A of the IT Act, 2000, to block internet content and reprimand publishers in the interests of “sovereignty, integrity, defence of India and security of the State or preventing a cognisable offence.” They government can issue orders against news aggregators and publishers, which can either ‘warn, censure, admonish, reprimand, demand an apology, require a warning card or disclaimer, delete or modify’ content.’
This will be based on grievances received by the publisher, the SRO or the I&B Ministry from the public. Members of the public and other parties can file grievances against digital news publishers for violations of the journalistic codes of ethics, that are issued by the Press Council of India and under the Cable Television Networks Act, 1995, or for any other reason they may see fit.
As per the rules, publishers will have to issue monthly compliance reports mentioning details of the grievances received and the action taken.
As of 3:30 pm on April 19, the following news publishers/aggregators had gone live with the grievance redressal portal:
We will keep updating this list as more news publishers update their websites and terms of service.
Backlash against new rules
In a letter to the Prime Minister, dated March 6, the Editors Guild of India said that the government should revoke the rules and facilitate meaningful consultations for media regulations. “The most alarming aspect of these rules is the cumbersome three-tier structure to regulate digital media, with an “Inter-Departmental Committee” at the top, and excessive powers being given to a government officer to block, modify and delete content,” it said.
Several news and media companies have challenged these rules in the courts for being ‘ultra vires’. While Quint said that under the new rules the government can “virtually dictate content to digital news portals”, LiveLaw said that the rules were “vague” and “suffer from excessive delegation of powers”, which will lead to the exercise of judicial functions by non-judicial authorities.
The petition by the Foundation for Independent Journalism, its founding editor MK Venu and Dhanya Rajendran, founder and editor-in-chief of The News Minute said that the rules go beyond IT Act’s mandate.
“Allowing a regulatory regime to be established in respect of the digital media industry is like allowing power looms to be regulated under the Electricity Act merely because they employ and use electric power in the course of their business; or allowing the practice and profession of plumbing to be regulated under the Water Act” Petition filed by —The Foundation for Independent Journalism
MediaNama has created a guide on how the new IT Rules 2021 impacts different types of online intermediaries, the reactions from various industries, their legal challenges and a little bit of history on how we got here. Guide: All you need to know about the new IT Rules, 2021