IJU expresses concern over digital news ‘censorship’

NEW DELHI, 27 Feb: The Indian Journalists Union (IJU) has expressed grave concern over the new Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediary and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, saying that, not only shall it increase censorship and impact press freedom but the rules exercise powers far beyond the parent legislation for digital news media.

The rules, a move to regulate social media platforms, as announced on Thursday, shall greatly impinge on the right to free speech and expression and will impact the independent functioning of digital/online media and its duty to keep the public better informed, the IJU said.

In its applicable entities, the rules include “publishers of news and current affairs content”; “intermediaries which primarily enable the transmission of news and current affairs content”; and “publishers of online curated content.”

This, according to the Internet Freedom Foundation, is an illegal and unconstitutional extension of executive power to regulate online news media and video streaming platforms. In fact, it even termed it a “Chinese model of online surveillance and censorship.”

In a statement, IJU president Geetartha Pathak and secretary-general Sabina Inderjit expressed concern over the fact that the government held no prior consultation with the digital players and has simply thrust the rules, which it claims were needed to hold social media and other companies accountable for “misuse and abuse.”

However, the IJU cautioned that “the government is off the mark when it includes digital news media under the rules, as news is different from sites that host user-generated content.”

The IJU said that the government’s intent to control media was very obvious, and that these guidelines were a mere tool to regulate online media. The IJU demanded that the Modi government reexamine these, hold discussions with the stakeholders and get the parliament’s approval.