Regulations for online media: journos demand withdrawal

A group of over 100 journalists and other online media professionals have demanded that the Union government must withdraw its decision to bring news portals and infotainment sites under a regulatory framework.

They said the move, initiated by the Information and Broadcasting (I&B) ministry under Smriti Irani, would not only lead to impingement of the right of "the individual citizen's freedom of expression", which is guaranteed by the Constitution, but also open up "the possibility" of widespread abuse and attempts to suppress "political dissent" by the government.

Raising their demands and concerns, online media journalists and other professionals approached the offices of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and I&B Minister Smriti Irani on Tuesday.

The I&B ministry had recently set up a 10-member committee to formulate a regulatory framework for online media, saying the move has been initiated as there is no norms or guidelines in place to regulate online media and news portals, including digital broadcasting in the country.

"We deny the assertion there are no norms and guidelines for content on the internet. Even a cursory reading of the IT (Information Technology) Act would reveal that all content is covered under its scope," the group of online media professionals stated in their letter to the prime minister and the I&B minister.

The act "in fact" goes beyond laying down the guidelines and incorporates "stiff punishments" for those who violate the content norms laid down in it, the letter read.

Similarly, several other laws, such as the Indian Penal Code, also contain "clear dos and don'ts" for sharing of content over the internet, they argued.

"Online content is different from print and television content because most of it is produced by individual citizens in exercise of their constitutional right to freedom of expression and embodies two-way communication and interactivity and not just publishing," they said.

Much of the online content is borne out of "an individual's need" to express opinions and exercise artistic freedom, protected by Article 19 of the Constitution of India.

"According to the Indian Constitution, an individual has the same right to free speech and expression whether by word of mouth, writing, printing, pictures or any other mode. Therefore, restrictions that do not apply to offline speech cannot be used to control online speech either," they said.

Senior journalists Raghav Bahl, co-founder of the Quint; M K Venu, founding editor of The Wire; Madhu Trehan, co-founder of Newslaundry; and Paranjoy Guha Thakurta are among the media professionals who have signed the letter.

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Regulations for online media: journos demand withdrawal

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