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Summary: IT Standing Committee report on Ethical Standards in Media Coverage

The report underlines the need for checks and balances in digital media regulation, among other recommendations.

“It is a matter of grave concern that media which was once the most trusted weapon in the hands of the citizenry in our democracy and acted as trustees of the public interest is gradually losing its credibility and integrity where values and morality are being compromised,” the Standing Committee on Information Technology led by MP Shashi Tharoor wrote in its report on Ethical Standards in Media Coverage presented to the Parliament on December 1.

“Rampant instances of violations of code of conduct of ethics by the media reflected in the form of paid news, fake news, TRPs manipulation, media trials, sensationalism, biased reporting, etc. have placed a big question mark on its credibility in the minds of people which is not a good sign for the healthy democracy,” the Committee remarked.

Noting the above, the Committee has given the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) following observations on the efficacy of existing standards and recommendations that may be considered “in restoring the credibility of media as the 4th pillar of democracy.” Here’s a summary of the observations and recommendations made pertaining to digital and social media.

For the complete report that covers observations and recommendations for print and electronics media (TV and radio), please refer here.

Recommendations on digital and social media

  1. Ministries must work coherently to ensure code of ethics prescribed by IT Rules 2021 are followed by digital media too: Noting that social media platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Twitter, etc “have placed journalism in the hands of the citizens” the Committee hoped that the Information Technology (IT) Rules 2021 notified by the IT Ministry in February this year, which has a Digital Media Ethics Code that will be administered by MIB, go “a long way in regulating digital media content and both the Ministries will work coherently and in tandem to ensure that the code for ethics is followed by digital media also.”
  2. Digital media’s right to freedom of expression must be preserved: The Committee added that the government must “ensure that adequate consultations take place with all stakeholders and that oversight of digital media may be exercised while fully preserving their right to freedom of expression.” The Committee must take care of the “grievances and numerous concerns raised by the general public, stakeholders and other media activists about the efficacy of these Rules and their implications for free speech, journalistic freedom and artistic creativity,” the report reads. “The Committee are of the view that any regulation must have checks and balances to ensure that it is neither misused nor violative of Article 14, 19 and 21 of Indian Constitution,” the report further adds.
  3. A Media Council should be established with statutory powers to enforce its orders: Although the Press Council of India, the statutory body governing the print media, has the power to entertain complaints and warn, admonish or censure the newspaper or the journalist concerned, it does not have the power to enforce compliance as its advisories are not enforceable in a Court of Law. Furthermore, the self-organised News Broadcasting Standard Authority (NBSA) governing news broadcasting has the power to fine, but its jurisdiction extends to only those organisations that choose to be members of its association, limiting its efficacy. In light of this, the Committee opined that MIB should explore setting up a wider Media Council encompassing not just the print media but the electronic and digital media as well and equip it with statutory powers to enforce its orders. “This would enable it to have a holistic view of the media scenario and take appropriate steps to check irregularities, ensure freedom of speech and professionalism, and maintain the highest ethical standards and credibility,” the Committee stated.
  4. Training programme and workshops for officials at District and State level on IT Rules 2021: The Committee recommended that MIB should ensure training programmes for administrative officials at District and State level in order to brief them about the new guidelines and about the possible misuse or misinterpretation.

Recommendations on curbing fake news

  1. Need more Fact Check Units (FCU): While appreciating the Press India Bureau (PIB) for setting up Fact Check Units in 17 Regional Offices of PIB, the Committee desired that MIB should open more such FCUs to remain vigilant for viral videos and news which might create public disorder.
  2. Term “Fake News” should be broadly defined: The Committee also recommended that the term “Fake News” should be more broadly defined.
  3. Regulatory mechanisms should embrace technology like AI to tackle fake news: Endorsing the view of Prasar Bharati CEO, the Committee recommended that regulatory mechanisms should look at embracing the latest technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) to check fake news and to be able to intervene in near real-time.
  4. Legal provisions should be developed: The Committee noted that countries like Australia, Malaysia, and other democracies have anti-fake news laws and that the government should study their laws and develop legal provisions for India too.
  5. Seek the expertise of non-government agencies: Naming AltNews, check4spam, and SMHoaxslayer, the Committee recommended that the government should factor in the expertise of these non-government agencies in the domain of fact-checking.

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