The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITY) has notified the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021. The said Rules, which come into force from 25 February 2021, supercede the Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines) Rules, 2011. The Rules primarily aim at bringing internet based operations such as social media platforms, OTT streaming services, digital news outlets etc. within the ambit of government regulation. While MEITY will administer the Rules, Part-III of the Rules relating to Code of Ethics, procedure and safeguards in relation to digital media will be administered by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.
The key highlights of these Rules are as under:
1. Definitions of ‘digital media’, ‘significant social media intermediary’‘, ‘content descriptor’, News and current affairs content’, ‘news aggregator’, ‘online curated content’:
Digital media’ means digitized content that can be transmitted over the internet or computer networks and includes content received, stored, transmitted, edited or processed by- (i) an intermediary; or (ii) a publisher of news and current affairs content or a publisher of online curated content.
A ‘significant social media intermediary‘ means an intermediary having a number of registered users in India that are above the threshold notified by the Central Government. The notified threshold is fifty lakh registered users;
A ‘social media intermediary‘ means 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.
‘Content descriptor‘ has now been defined to mean the issues and concerns which are relevant to the classification of any online curated content, including discrimination, depiction of illegal or harmful substances, imitable behaviour, nudity, language, sex, violence, fear, threat, horror and other such concerns as specified in the Schedule annexed to the rules.
2. Enhanced due diligence for significant social media intermediary:
In addition to the due diligence to be exercised by an intermediary, significant social media intermediaries (SSMIs) are required to :
These additional due diligence measures for SSMIs will come into effect three months after publication of these Rules, that is, from 25 May 2021.
3. Additional due diligence for publishers of news and current affairs content: A publisher of news and current affairs content and a publisher of online curated content operating in the territory of India, is required to inform the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting about the details of its entity by furnishing information along with such documents as may be specified.
An intermediary, whose services are used by publishers of news and current affairs, shall inform such publishers (by publishing on its website, mobile based application, or both) that, in addition to the common terms of service for all users of the intermediary, they are required to furnish details of their user accounts on the services of such intermediary to the Ministry.
4. Code of Ethics / safeguards for digital media: A three tier grievance redressal mechanism has been provided – Level I is self-regulation by the publishers; Level II is self-regulation by the self-regulating bodies of the publishers; and Level III is the oversight mechanism by the Central Government. Issues relating to digital media, OTT and other creative programmes on Internet will be administered by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting but the overall architecture is under the IT Act.
The OTT platforms will self-classify the content into five age based categories and shall prominently display the classification rating specific to each content or programme together with a content descriptor informing the user about the nature of the content, and advising on viewer description (if applicable) at the beginning of every programme. This will enable the user to make an informed decision, prior to watching the programme.
Publishers of news on digital media are required to observe Norms of Journalistic Conduct of the Press Council of India and the Programme Code under the Cable Television Networks Regulation Act, thereby providing a level playing field between the offline (Print, TV) and digital media.
5. Consequences of non-observance of Rules: If an intermediary fails to observe these rules, the security of the safe harbour provisions under section 79(1) of the IT Act will not apply to such intermediary and the intermediary will be liable for punishment under any law including the IT Act and the Indian Penal Code.
To refer to the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 dated 25 February 2021, click here.
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