Calling it a soft-touch mechanism, the government has issued an array of guidelines
Narendra Modi led government on Thursday issued intermediary guidelines and digital ethics code on social media platforms and over-the-top (OTT) services. This comes on the back of recent farmer protests which led to arrest of activist Disha Ravi besides growing concern on content around religion and other issues being shown on OTT platforms. Amazon Prime Video’s Tandav created quite a furor among a section of people. “While finalizing these Rules, both the Ministries of Electronics and Information Technology and Ministry of Information and Broadcasting undertook elaborate consultations among themselves in order to have a, soft-touch oversight mechanism in relation to social media platform as well as digital media and OTT platforms,” IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, said.
According to Prasad, social media platform will be divided into two slabs based on the userbase. Those platforms which have a userbase of more than 50 lakh will come under significant social media intermediary platforms and the remaining under social media intermediary platforms. “The government welcomes criticism and dissent but there is a need to create a redressal mechanism against abuse and misuse of social media platforms. These platforms should be able to resolve these issues in a time bound manner,” Prasad added.
He went onto add that while these platforms have managed to gather a good userbase and even a good business, besides empowering the ordinary Indian, a set of guidelines are required to ensure law and order remains intact. It should be noted that WhatsApp has 53 crore users while YouTube has 44.8 crore users, followed by Facebook at 41 crore, Instagram at 21 crore and Twitter 1.75 crore.
Furthermore, part- II of these rules shall be administered by the Ministry of Electronics and IT, while Part-III relating to Code of Ethics and procedure and safeguards in relation to digital media shall be administered by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.
As for the digital news and OTT industry, under the new code of ethics – the former is expected to publish scope of work including the content it publishes and source of origin. In all digital news platforms are expected to disclose their details of functioning. Post which the government may initiate talks to bring them under a similar kind of news guidelines which will be more or less on the lines followed by Press Council of India and the Television Act.
Next, with 40 known OTT platforms currently functioning in the country, under the new code of ethics, the industry is expected to set up a redressal mechanism body which will be head by a retired Supreme Court or High Court Judge or an eminent personality of the same holding. The body should have six to seven members. “With this we are establishing a level playing field between print, TV and digital. Similar to TV which runs a scroll or pays a fine post sensitive or wrong information has been aired – a similar mechanism will be followed by OTT services,” Prakash Javadekar, Minister of Information and Broadcasting, said.
Further, an oversight mechanism will be created to tackle large issues. Javadekar further added that the going forward OTT platforms will have to create a self classification mechanism for content – thereby dividing and providing access to content as per age group. The age groups mentioned are 13+, 16+, 18+ and Adult content.
Moreover, under the grievance redressal mechanism – intermediaries including social media intermediaries are required to establish a grievance redressal mechanism for receiving resolving complaints from the users or victims. Intermediaries shall appoint a Grievance Officer to deal with such complaints and share the name and contact details of such officer. Grievance Officer shall acknowledge the complaint within twenty four hours and resolve it within fifteen days from its receipt. Ensuring online safety and dignity of users, specially women — intermediaries shall remove or disable access within 24 hours of receipt of complaints of contents that exposes the private areas of individuals, show such individuals in full or partial nudity or in sexual act or is in the nature of impersonation including morphed images etc. Such a complaint can be filed either by the individual or by any other person on his/her behalf. Also significant social media intermediaries are required to appoint a chief compliance officer who shall be responsible for ensuring compliance with the Act and Rules. Such a person should be a resident in India and appoint a nodal contact person for 24×7, coordination with law enforcement agencies. Such a person shall be a resident in India. These platforms are required to appoint a resident grievance officer who shall perform the functions mentioned under Grievance Redressal Mechanism. Such a person shall be a resident in India. o Publish a monthly compliance report mentioning the details of complaints received and action taken on the complaints as well as details of contents removed proactively by the significant social media intermediary. Significant social media intermediaries providing services primarily in the nature of messaging shall enable identification of the first originator of the information that is required only for the purposes of prevention, detection, investigation, prosecution or punishment of an offence related to sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, or public order or of incitement to an offence relating to the above or in relation with rape, sexually explicit material or child sexual abuse material punishable with imprisonment for a term of not less than five years.
Intermediary shall not be required to disclose the contents of any message or any other information to the first originator. Significant social media intermediary shall have a physical contact address in India published on its website or mobile app or both.
Under voluntary user verification mechanism — users who wish to verify their accounts voluntarily shall be provided an appropriate mechanism to verify their accounts and provided with demonstrable and visible marks of verification.