The National Alliance of Journalists(NAJ) and Delhi Union of Journalists (DUJ)has termed as ominous, the Union governments hastily framing of rules to monitor digital media specially taking into account manifold attacks on articles critical of the government and increasing attacks on freedom of the press and journalistic rights.
Within days of the Union Government framing rules to monitor digital media, the police went to the home of a Manipuri journalist who had hosted a discussion on the rules on his Facebook page. They served him a notice from the local government, demanding that he show documents of compliance with the rules. The move reflects the dangers of the new rules, observes the National Alliance of journalists and the Delhi Union of Journalists through a statement by the President S.K.Pande and DUJ General Secretary Sujata Madhok and NAJ Secretary General N. Kondaiah.
The Information & Broadcasting Ministry has subsequently clarified that the central government alone has the powers to enforce the Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021. The overzealous District Magistrate of Imphal West has withdrawn the notice to journalist Paojel Chaoba.
However, the Rules are clearly a move to control the digital news media (such as The Wire, Scroll, Newslaundry) besides OTT platforms (like Amazon Prime, Netflix) and social media companies (Facebook, Twitter) and others. The discomfort among a section of people with some content on the streaming platforms (e.g. showing nudity or advocating political positions) is a pretext for clamping down on the entire digital spectrum. Earlier, governments at both the centre and the states have used criminal laws, including sedition and defamation laws, to reign in journalists whose reportage and opinions they disagree with. The Rules are one more step in this direction.
The recent government tussle with Twitter on its demand that Twitter take down many accounts has perhaps precipitated the rule that social media platforms appoint compliance officers, nodal contact persons and resident grievance officers who must be posted in India and thereby accountable to the Indian government.
The Rules require three types of compliance: self regulation by the publishers, regulation by an industry body headed by a retired judge and regulation by an inter-ministerial committee. Publishers can be required to take down content on the orders of the committees, raising concerns about censorship.
Privacy is another huge concern, as the Rules mandate that social media platforms must divulge to government agencies the originator of any post, irrespective of encryption by companies like Signal or WhatsApp. Data will have to be retained by the platforms for six months, even if the user has deleted the account. Private chats and photos will no longer be private, Big Brother will monitor them all. Journalists will no longer be able to protect their sources. This poses a grave danger as it will directly affect the media’s access to information.
We note that the Rules have been arbitrarily drafted without adequate consultation with stakeholders and without any Parliamentary oversight. They infringe on our Constitutional freedoms, both as citizens and as media persons. We demand that they be immediately withdrawn.