EGI Writes Letter to PM, Ministers, Condemning New IT Act Rules

The EGI also submitted a letter to Union Ministers Prakash Javadekar and Ravi Shankar Prasad on the new IT rules. 

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EGI wrote a letter to Cabinet Ministers Prakash Javadekar and Ravi Shankar Prasad over the new IT rules. 
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The Editors Guild of India on Saturday, 6 March, wrote a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi saying it is “deeply concerned” about the recent notification of IT Rules, that is “fundamentally altering how publishers of news operate over the Internet and undermine freedom of press in the country”. They are yet to hear back from the PMO.

EGI is the apex body of editors from across the country, representing all forms of media — print, television, digital. It was set up in 1978 with the twin objectives of protecting press freedom and raising the standards of editorial leadership in media.

The new IT Rules, issued under the Information Technology Act, 2000, seeks to impose a ‘Code of Ethics’ on digital news publications and regulate their functioning.

The 30-page document titled, ‘Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021’, places a host of strict obligations on online platforms and provides for a three-tier mechanism for regulation of all online media, which confers blocking powers to an inter-ministerial committee.

WHAT DID THE LETTER TO PM MODI SAY?

“The most alarming aspect of these rules is the cumbersome three-tier structure to regulate digital media, with an “Inter-Departmental Committee” at the top, and excessive powers being given to a government officer to block, modify, and delete content. Various other provisions in these rules can place unreasonable restrictions on digital news media, and consequently media at large.”
EGI’s Letter to PM Modi

The letter states that there are concerns that the press is being compromised since the rules were brought in without due consultation with stakeholders. The EGI asked for urgent intervention from PM Modi to revoke the rules, calling for more meaningful consultations with stakeholders, which would be in line with the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech and expression.

The EGI asked to meet with the PM with a delegation of its members to discuss the issues with the new IT act rules in depth.

The EGI also submitted a letter to Prakash Javadekar, Union Minister for Broadcasting as well as Ravi Shankar Prasad, the Union Minister for Electronics and Information Technology with feedback that has also been sent to the PM.

WHAT DID THE LETTER TO THE MINISTERS SAY?

The EGI sent detailed feedback to the ministers around elements of the amended IT Act that concerned them, including that the decision was made without consulting any stakeholders.

Some of the pertinent concerns raised are as follows:

1. Rules 13, 14 and 15 (oversight mechanism) permit officers of the Government to block, delete or modify news published by Digital News Media. The EGI noted that, “This affects the publishers’ Fundamental Right to Expression and the citizens’ right to access differing points of view, both guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution”.

The EGI raised concerns that if the executive has absolute decision-making power, it will “inhibit Digital News Media and the press at large from fulfilling its obligations as the fourth estate”.

The EGI recommended the ministry to withdraw the “regressive regulatory mechanism”, urging for a more “equitable self-regulatory system”.

“Any action on such speech should be taken only after adjudication by an independent judiciary, rather than the executive,” stated the letter.

2. The Rules have been enacted under the Information Technology Act 2000, which does not contemplate regulation of Digital News Media and allows the government to issue guidelines only to intermediaries like Internet Service Providers. The EGI raised concerns that this regulation has been carried out without Parliament’s approval.

“The provisions of the IT Act, 2000 under which the government has introduced the Rules, do not pertain to the regulation of Digital News Media. Section 87(2)(z) empowers the government to establish the procedure related to blocking information over the internet but does not permit the government to mandate publishers to establish a Grievance Redressal Mechanism,” stated the letter.

3. The EGI talked about not having enough clarity on the applicability of Rule 8, Part III in the Act, which applies to publishers of news and current affairs content as long as the publishers have a physical presence in the territory of India and are conducting the ‘systematic activity’ of making their content available in India. The EGI noted that there is no “threshold requirement of readership to differentiate between Digital News Media based on scale”.

EGI’s concern around this law is that it also affects “ logs, individuals reporting news through social media and nascent news organisations”, who will be forced to comply with the new Rules.

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