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Run info campaign so viewers know digital media rules, make informed choice: Panel of MPs

New rules mandated online media, OTT players to follow existing codes meant for television & print media. A parliamentary panel seeks its implementation.

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New Delhi: A parliamentary panel has asked the Information and Broadcasting (I&B) Ministry to launch an awareness campaign about its new rules for intermediaries, OTT and digital news platforms so that viewers can make an informed choice about the content they seek to consume, and to ensure the menace of fake news can be tackled.

In its report released Wednesday, the Standing Committee on Information Technology said the awareness campaign will help citizens get their grievances redressed within a specified time period and help protect children and youth from consuming “obnoxious content”.

The panel said it looked forward to discussing the rules with the ministry and hoped the latter would implement the rules with “due regard to the importance of promoting creativity and protecting freedom of expression”, while “maintaining a robust oversight mechanism”.

The Narendra Modi government notified rules last month, which mandated online media as well as OTT platforms to follow the existing content codes meant for television and print media, and to set up a grievance redressal structure to check any violation.

Subsequently, the rules ran into trouble with the Supreme Court, which observed that the guidelines were ineffective in ensuring no “objectionable content” is screened online.

Meanwhile news portals, too, challenged the rules, stating they were beyond the “object and scope” of the Information Technology Act, 2000.

In its report, the panel noted that the ministry has said the mechanism is based on the principles of minimum government intervention, but platforms should develop a robust grievance redressal mechanism on their own.

It said the ministry also feels the rules would encourage growth in the ‘Champion’ audio-visual services sector, empower citizens to make informed choices about content, get their grievances addressed in definite time-frames, protect children and help to fight fake news on digital media through a mechanism of accountability of the publishers.

Also read: Netflix, Amazon, Alt Balaji want protection from FIRs, time to classify shows based on age

Thrust area — countering fake news

The I&B ministry informed the panel that one of its thrust areas for the year 2021-22 is to strengthen and expand the ‘Fact Check Unit’ for countering fake news.

The unit was set up under the government’s communication arm, the Press Information Bureau (PIB), in December 2019. Since then 17 such units have been set up in regional offices of PIB.

The ministry informed the panel that as of February, there were 9,103 complaints, out of which 8,263 were countered or replied to, and 323 ‘fake news’ were busted.

Between 26 April 2020 and 18 February, these units received 49,625 queries on WhatsApp/e-mail and out of these, the 16,992 actionable cases have been replied to, said the ministry, adding that the PIB countered 505 cases during this period.

The panel asked the ministry to strengthen these units with a robust mechanism at both central and regional levels and also address current challenges which come with respect to vernacular languages.

(Edited by Amit Upadhyaya)

Also read: Modi govt’s new IT rules don’t empower consumers, but expand State power over online content


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