New Delhi: The Supreme Court Friday questioned the new rules framed by the Narendra Modi government to regulate the functioning of online media portals, over-the-top (OTT) platforms and social media intermediaries, observing they did not set any mechanism to ensure no “objectionable content” is screened online.
A bench led by Justice Ashok Bhushan also noted the rules were more in the nature of guidelines, with no effective mechanism for either screening or taking appropriate action against those who do not comply with the guidelines.
The bench asked the Centre to come up with a fresh set of rules, after it agreed to consider the court’s view on the current rules and take appropriate steps to come out with either new regulations or legislation.
“These rules do not talk about prosecution or punishment in case of a violation. It cannot be done without a legislation,” the bench told central government counsel, solicitor general Tushar Mehta.
The court was hearing OTT platform Amazon Prime India head Aparna Purohit’s plea for anticipatory bail in connection with FIRs against her over controversial web series Tandav.
While the court gave Purohit interim protection from arrest, it directed her to cooperate with police investigation.
According to the order, she will have to present herself before the police as and when notice is issued to her. There are two FIRs filed against Purohit, one in Greater Noida and the other in Lucknow.
The government had placed the rules for the court’s perusal following a direction to it Thursday. The bench had expressed concern over pornographic content on some OTT platforms, saying there should be a mechanism to screen such programmes.
Last week, the Modi government had notified Information Technology (Guidelines for intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 (IT Rules, 2021), to regulate the functioning of online media portals and publishers, OTT platforms and social media intermediaries.
‘Give us time’
During the hearing, Mehta clarified the rules were framed in such a way to maintain a balance between censorship and internal self-regulation. But he concurred with the bench that the issue before it requires examination and sought time to take further appropriate steps.
“Give us time and we will come out with something to place before this court for an assessment,” Mehta told the court.
“One of the issues cropped up before us is regarding uncontrolled and uncensored viewing of the films on Prime Video. We have seen the rules. They are in the nature of guidelines,” the bench noted in its order.
On the FIR against Purohit, her lawyer, senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi took a strong objection to Allahabad High Court order last week denying her bail. Rohatgi said the HC had presumed that she was not cooperating with police investigation.
He placed the sequence of events before the bench and said, “The HC had reserved its order on 4 February, while the judgment was delivered on 25 February. I had appeared before the police on 23 February, in response to the notice. How does the HC conclude that I have not cooperated?”
He further disputed the court’s opinion that pornographic content is screened on OTT platforms. “I can show you thousands of films, not even one of them has pornography,” Rohatgi asserted.