The Publishers Guild of India has requested the intervention of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to revoke the 2021 Information Technology Rules (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Code of Ethics for Digital Media), reminding him of its public commitment to protection of freedom of speech and expression in India.
The Guild released the letter sent over a fortnight ago on Monday, having received no response from the Prime Minister or the two ministers concerned who also received similar letters requesting that the new code of ethics be put on hold until ” that detailed consultations are held with all stakeholders.
The letters point out that there was no consultation with stakeholders prior to notification of the rules.
In the letter to the Prime Minister, the Guild said the new rules have the potential to fundamentally change the way internet news publishers operate and undermine press freedom in the country, identifying the cumbersome three-tier structure. to regulate digital media, with an “Interdepartmental Committee” at the top as the most alarming aspect.
Aside from giving a government agent undue powers to block, edit and remove content, the letter notes that other provisions of these rules place unreasonable restrictions on digital news media and, therefore, on digital news media. media in general.
“These rules were introduced without consultation with stakeholders and reinforce concerns that press freedom in India is seriously compromised.”
In the letter to ministers, the Guild provided more details on the problematic aspects of the code. Regarding the three-tier structure, he urges ministers to withdraw this “onerous and regressive regulatory mechanism” and to initiate consultations to establish a more equitable self-regulation system.
“We believe that the question of whether a speech violates an existing law, or is linked to a code of ethics, or whether it should be assessed in accordance with Article 19 (2) of the Constitution, is a question complicated not only by facts. but also of right. Therefore, any action on such speech should only be taken after being judged by an independent judiciary, rather than the executive. “
Additionally, they questioned the use of the Information Technology Act 2000 to introduce the rules, pointing out that the government has gone beyond the scope of the law without parliamentary approval.
In addition, according to the Guild, the applicability of the rule stating that it is applicable to publishers of current and topical content lacks clarity as long as the publishers are physically present in Indian territory and carry out the “systematic activity. »For making their content available in India.
“Such an application is too broad because there is no readership threshold requirement to differentiate digital news media based on their scale. The consequence is that even blogs, people reporting information via social media and fledgling news agencies will have to comply with the onerous obligations imposed by the rules. “
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