The government has announced new rules for intermediary platforms, and social media intermediaries as well as for digital media and over-the-top (OTT) content players. 

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeITY) has announced its draft Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, for social media platforms, OTT players & digital media Thursday, with significant recommendations 

The Rules will come in effect from the date of their publication in the gazette. 

Social media companies and redressal 

The government wants social media companies to have a mechanism to address complaints from users. It wants social media intermediaries to have the following: 

Chief Compliance Officer who shall be responsible for ensuring compliance with the Act and Rules. 

Nodal Contact Person for 24×7 coordination with law enforcement agencies. Resident Grievance Officer shall perform the functions mentioned under Grievance Redressal Mechanism. 

All these officers have to be residents of India. 

The government says it is empowering the users of social media and other intermediaries. It wants companies to have a chief compliance officer for significant social media companies as well. The rules call for social media companies to publish a monthly compliance report as well.

“If there are complaints against the dignity of users, particularly woman that exploits their private parts of individuals or nudity or in sexual acts, impersonation, etc, you will be required to remove that within 24 hours,” Prasad said. 

Track originator of a message 

The rules also call for tracking of the ‘first originator’ of a message and apply to a significant social media intermediary. It also wants the significant social media intermediary to have a physical contact address in India published on its website or mobile app or both. For players like WhatsApp, which is end-to-end encrypted, this could mean they will be forced to break encryption in India to comply. 

The government says while it is not interested in the content of the message, they wish to know who started the ‘mischief’. 

It wants social media platforms to disclose the first originator of the mischievous tweet or message as the case may be. 

 This will be required in matters related to the security and sovereignty of India, public order, or rape, or any other sexually explicit material. 

OTT content platforms, digital media 

The government has called for a grievance redressal system for OTT platforms and digital news media portals as well. The government is also asking OTT platforms and digital news media to self-regulate and wants a mechanism for addressing any grievances. 

While films have a censor board, OTT platforms will require to self-classify their movies and content based on age. The content will have to be classified based on age appropriateness. 

The government wants the OTT players to classify films based on 13+, 16+ and those for adults and clarified it is not bringing any kind of censorship to these platforms.

There has to be a mechanism of parental lock and ensuring compliance with the same. Platforms like Netflix already have an option for a parental lock. 

For publishers of news on digital media, they will be “required to observe Norms of Journalistic Conduct of the Press Council of India and the Programme Code under the Cable Television Networks Regulation Act thereby providing a level playing field between the offline (Print, TV) and digital media,” according to the government. 

It also wants a three-level grievance redressal mechanism. This will include self-regulation by the publishers;  self-regulation by the self-regulating bodies of the publishers and oversight mechanism. 

The government wants digital media to appoint a Grievance Redressal Officer based in India who shall be responsible for the redressal of grievances received by it. 

The officer shall decide on every grievance received by it within 15 days. There maybe one or more self-regulatory bodies of publishers. According to the rules, this body “shall be headed by a retired judge of the Supreme Court, a High Court or independent eminent person and have not more than six members.” 

The body will have to register with the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. This body will oversee the adherence by the publisher to the Code of Ethics and address grievances that have not be been resolved by the publisher within 15 days. 

Further, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting shall formulate an oversight mechanism. It shall publish a charter for self-regulating bodies, including Codes of Practices, and establish an Inter-Departmental Committee for hearing grievances.

How the new rules undermine freedom and democracy

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