Media houses, news portals slam Modi govt's bid to rein in online media

Various media organisations and news portals have raised questions on the Narendra Modi government's move to bring online media under a regulatory framework.

They have found fault with the constitution of a 10-member committee by the Information and Broadcasting (I&B) Ministry in this connection, complaining that the panel which will suggest measures to the government to regulate online media does not have "a single representative from the online industry on board."

The I&B ministry under Smriti Irani set up the committee on April 4 to formulate a regulatory framework for the online news portals and other media sites, maintaining that they remain unregulated while print and electronic media function under a specified regulatory framework.

The ministry appointed its secretary as the convenor of the committee while the secretaries of the Union ministries of electronics and information technology, home affairs, department of legal affairs, department of industrial policy and promotion were made its members.

The committee will have one representative each from the Press Council of India (PCI), News Broadcasters Association (NBA) and the Indian Broadcasting Federation (IBF). The ministry has left it to its secretary to nominate one representative from any "department or organisation" as the 10th member on the committee.

Expressing concern over the move, the Network of Women in Media (NWMI) said the committee's mandate to "delineate the sphere of online information dissemination" to bring online media under regulation on the lines applicable to the print and electronic media "is deeply problematic."

"The proposed mandate seems akin to pre-censorship. Content may be governed by a professional code, but the government has no jurisdiction to prevent dissemination of news through online portals. That would be a direct violation of Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.

Exclusionary, coercive

"The government move that seeks to decide new rules for online media excludes any representatives from online news publishers and reads as exclusionary and coercive," NDTV said in a statement.

The news channel noted that the Information Technology (IT) Act "already applies to online content."

"The youngest and most democratic of all media - online media - must be allowed self-regulation," it said.

Former I&B minister and a senior Congress leader Manish Tewari also criticised the government's move

"Regulation of News Portals&Media websites http://unnecessary. IT Act has ample penal provisions to take care of exigencies. Print Regulation 1867 vintage,Uplinking/Downlinking Guidelines for TV not legislation&Cable Television Act needs complete overhaul," he tweeted.

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