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Online content regulation

  • IASbaba
  • September 29, 2022
  • 0
Governance, Science and Technology
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In News: The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (I&B) has asked YouTube to remove 45 videos from 10 channels. The order invokes the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021.

Indian Context:

  • India ranks quite high in the list of countries that make regular requests for removal of online content.
  • Internet censorship in India is done by both central and state governments.
  • In March 2012, Reporters Without Borders added India to its list of “countries under surveillance
  • Freedom House’s Freedom on the Net 2017 report gives India a Freedom on the Net status of “Partly Free”
  • In 2020, environmental groups like Fridays for Future India leading the movement against the Indian Government’s new EIA 2020 Draft reported that their websites were made inaccessible to users in India or were taken down.
  • In 2021, regarding Government’s handling of COVID-19 pandemic, an emergency order to Twitter was made to take down tweets from high-profile users that criticised its handling of the pandemic – Twitter has complied and withheld these tweets.
  • In early 2021, Twitter refused to comply with orders from the Indian government to ban over a thousand accounts related to farmers’ protests.

What is an OTT platform:

  • OTT or Over the Top Platforms are services that offer viewers access to movies, TV shows and other media directly through the Internet, bypassing cable or satellite systems.
  • OTT services can be accessed through internet-connected devices like computers, smartphones, set-top boxes and smart TVs.
  • In India’s regulatory parlance, OTT platforms are called ‘publishers of online curated content’. Online curated content is audio-visual content such as films, web-series, podcasts etc. made available to the viewers on demand, including but not limited through subscription by OTT platforms.
  • “On demand” means a system where a user is enabled to access, at a time chosen by them, any content in electronic form, which is transmitted over a computer resource and is selected by the user.
  • Popular video-on-demand services in India include Disney+ Hotstar, Amazon Prime Video, Sony LIV etc.

Information Technology Rules 2021

  • Aim: to regulate OTT platforms
  • The rules establish a soft-touch self-regulatory architecture
  • They provide for self-classification of the content without any involvement of Central Board of Film Certification.
  • The rules mandate a three-tier institutional mechanism for handling public grievances. Every publisher should appoint a Grievance Officer based in India for receiving and redressing grievances in 15 days. Also, every publisher needs to become a member of a self-regulating body. Such a body will have to register with the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and address grievances that have not been resolved by the publisher within 15 days.
  • OTT platforms must display age-based content rating and content descriptor for each content. If applicable, they should also display an advisory on viewer discretion at the beginning of the programme.
  • General principles require the platforms to not publish any content which is prohibited under any law and take into consideration the implications, and exercise due caution and discretion in respect of the content which affects the sovereignty & integrity of India and India’s multi-racial and multi-religious context.

Procedure in IT Rules:

  • An inter-departmental committee considers complaints on content and makes recommendations.
  • The Authorised Officer has to take the approval of the Secretary, I&B, before directing the publisher or intermediary to block the relevant content.
  • There is an emergency provision under which the Secretary may order content blocking as an interim measure, and thereafter confirm it after getting the committee’s views.
  • All such blocking orders are meant to be examined by a review committee, which ought to meet once in two months, but it is not known whether the panel meets regularly.
  • The Government, which discloses how many videos it has got removed, must also reveal the outcome of such reviews, if any.

Concerns:

  • Offensive content such as hate speech, incitement to violence and child pornography pose a challenge to the dignified use of online space.
  • Propagation of hate and communally sensitive material over the free video sharing website
  • Sensitivity of information: The content in these videos is based on intelligence inputs and may relate to sensitive issues such as references to Kashmir, the Agnipath scheme, false claims about the rights of religious minorities being taken away and dissemination of material portending civil war.
  • Validity of claims: If these claims are true and if the content transgresses the boundaries of free speech or threatens public order and security, such take-down orders may be justified.
  • Concern over process: However, the manner of their passing remains an unrevealed process, as it is not known if the originators of the content were given an opportunity to explain their stand before the blocking orders were issued. Section 69A of the IT Act, which empowers the Government to block content, was upheld by the Supreme Court only after it noted that the rules provided procedural safeguards, including the need to issue notice to the originators or the intermediary, before a blocking order.
  • Requiring messaging services to enable the identification of the first originator of information on its platform may adversely affect the privacy of individuals.
  • The procedure for emergency blocking of content of online publishers lacks certain safeguards – ground include national security and public order, without giving the publisher an opportunity of hearing.
  • Oversight mechanism for digital news media lacks the independence accorded to print news.

Way forward:

OTT platforms must exercise due caution and discretion when featuring the activities, beliefs, practices, or views of any racial or religious group.

The government must use the power to block online content sparingly and with sensitivity towards key freedoms and due process.

Source: The Hindu   

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