INTERMEDIARY GUIDELINES AND DIGITAL MEDIA RULES
The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021 (“Rules”) have been notified by the Government on 25 February 2021. The Rules have been notified under section 87 of Information Technology Act, 2000 (“Act”). The Rules are aimed at bringing films released in theatres, television show content and OTT platforms to a common level playing field. Further, the Rules cover various digital platforms and bring in better regulation by balancing self-regulation and government regulation. This update analyses the said Rules.
The Rules are broadly divided into 2 categories: (i) Regulation of intermediaries; and (ii) Code of ethics for digital platforms. These Rules envisage two different types of entities, over and above the traditional definition of intermediaries viz, social media intermediary and significant social media intermediary.
- Social media intermediary is defined in the Rules as an intermediary which primarily or solely enables online interaction between two or more users and allows them to create, upload, share, disseminate, modify, or access information using its services.
- Significant social media intermediary is defined in the Rules as a social media intermediary having a number of registered users in India above the threshold notified by the central government.
The level of due diligence of the intermediary depends on the hierarchy of the classification of the entities. For example, significant social media intermediaries, in addition to the diligence requirements mentioned above, need to do the following within 3 months of the notification of the Rules:
- Appoint a chief compliance officer resident in India, who shall be responsible for ensuring for compliance with the IT Act and the rules made thereunder;
- Appoint a nodal contact person resident in India, to liaise with the law enforcement agencies to ensure compliance of their orders or requisitions;
- Appoint a resident grievance officer who is a resident of India;
- Publish a periodic compliance report every month, mentioning the details of the complaints received and action taken in respect of those complaints.
The Rules empower ordinary users of digital platforms, embodying a mechanism for redressal and timely resolution of their grievance. Every intermediary shall, within 48 hours of receipt of a complaint pertaining to any content on its platform which may be sensitive in nature to the extent of nudity, sexual acts, artificially morphed images, etc, take all reasonable and practical measures to remove or disable access to such content, which is hosted, stored, published or transmitted by it. An officer, being the Grievance Redressal Office, is to be appointed to deal with such complaints.
Code of Ethics : The Rules also establish a soft-touch self-regulatory architecture, Code of Ethics and three tier grievance redressal mechanism for news publishers, OTT Platforms and digital media. Intermediaries will be required to appoint India-based compliance officers to ensure compliance with the provisions set out in the Rules. Further, an intermediary providing services primarily in the nature of messaging shall enable the identification of the first originator of the information.
The 3 - tier regulation system set up, provides for (i) Self - regulation by the publishers of the content in accordance with the Codes of Contents; (ii) Regulation through self - regulatory bodies which will be set up under the Rules; (iii) Oversight mechanism, which is in the process of being finalised and set up by the Electronics and IT Ministry.
A pertinent provision under the Rules is that publishers of news on digital media would be required to observe the Norms of Journalistic Conduct of the Press Council of India and the Programme Code under the Cable Television Networks Regulation Act, thereby being brought to the same level as offline print media.
OTT platforms will be required to self-classify their content based on the age criteria set out under the Schedule of the Rules, in order to restrict access to online curated content. The publisher is also required to prominently disclose the classification rating specific to each content or programme available on the platform, to enable the user to make an informed decision prior to watching any available content.
MHCO Comment : The Rules are extensive in nature, bringing various digital platforms under the purview of the Act with the intent to deal with the problem of fake news, abuse of these platforms, etc. The Rules are currently being challenged on grounds of constitutionality before the Supreme Court of India. Therefore, although these Rules are a step in the right direction to counter above mentioned issues, the concern of the possible violation of the right to freedom of speech and expression is still there and remains to be decided.
This update was released on 10 Mar 2021.
Legal Update Team
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