RECENT INTERMEDIARY GUIDELINES AND DIGITAL MEDIA ETHICS CODE IN INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY

Reading time : 10 minutes

INTRODUCTION

In this time of digitalization and modernization the audience at large depends largely on social media platforms for various kinds of updates regarding current affairs, entertainment, sports etc. Owing to the dangers prevailing people’s dependence on social media is at high risk as there is a probability of  it being misused.  Now days there are many criminal activities  that are taking place by cyber criminals or hackers involving email and internet fraud, ransomware attacks, online theft , identity fraud (where personal information of the persons are being stolen for illegal activities).

For this purpose an immediate need  was felt for  implementing the rigid rules for any sort of communication via intermediaries. Proper guidelines for smooth functioning of these social media platforms was needed in order to safeguard the public from being subjected to cyberattacks.

In accordance with , the government of India has informed for the OTT (over the top) platforms. The new  intermediary digital guidelines which was issued on 25th February,2021 will be applicable to various social media platforms like whatsapp,Facebook,twitter, hot star, netfilx amazon prime and various others.

In the information the ministry of information and broadcasting  has notified  the intermediary guidelines  or rules and code of ethics referring to the digital news publishers and the online OTT platforms . The publishers should strictly follow the rules and regulations , establish a grievance compensation mechanism and provide information to the government .

HIGHLIGHTS OF THE INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY GUIDELINES FOR INTERMEDIARIES DIGITAL MEDIA CODE OF ETHICS 2021)

These rules laid down by the ministry of information technology have to be strictly followed with due diligence by the social media intermediaries and digital media code of ethics .

Following are the list of due diligence that have to be monitored by the social media intermediaries while discharging the  duties

  1. Content take down :rule 3(1) d:-

The mediator after receiving a notice through a court order or by being informed by an agent of the government is bound to remove the content that is prohibited by law in context to the sovereignty and integrity of India, contempt of court, public order, decency, or any other information which is violating the laws of the country. This kind of content should be removed within thirty six hours after it comes to the mediator’s knowledge.

  • Grievance redressal mechanism:- Rule 3(2)(a)

The new rules develop the scope of the process which requires the officer to recognize the complaint within 24 hours and as well as set up a time limit of fifteen minutes to dispose the complaint.

  • To prevent the augmentation of non consensual content intimate images (Rule 3(2) (b):-

With respect to the non consensual intimate images there is a need for separate requirement of mechanism to remove the illegal content from the social media platforms.  These non consensual content basically exposes the personal life of an individual or a person. They portray the sexual conduct . these content are conveyed in order to abuse or harass people. In such a case the content has to be removed by the mediator within twenty four hours from the complaint received. The intermediary has to develop an operation or process where the individual can send the details of the  link.

This is a developed mechanism which was needed and also it address the issue of sexual content without consent of individuals and publication of nude .

PRE REQUISITE OF SOCIAL MEDIA INTERMEDIARIES:-

  • Appointment of  employees:-

According to Rule(4)(a) there is a requirement of a chief compliance officer:- An appointment of a chief compliance officer is done by the intermediary who shall accept or shoulder the duties and responsibilities  for ensuring the conformity of the IT act and its rules. The chief compliance officer will be held responsible in any case with respect to the third party information whereby if he fails to make sure that the intermediary has followed it with conscientiousness.

The chief compliance officer has to be the main employee of the company and has to be a resident of India.

According to rule 4(b) there is an appointment of nodal officer:- A nodal officer is also appointed by the social media intermediary  who will undertake and supervise 24 into 7 in coordination with law implementation authorities and will make sure that the orders sent to the company are revised properly .

He has to be an employee and must be a resident of India.

According to rule 4 (c) there is an appointment of  grievance officer:- The grievance officer shall make sure that the mediator follows the necessary requirements with carefulness relating to the redressal mechanism and also must be a resident of India.

These personnels should be appointed by the social media intermediary to undertake the responsibilities and perform their duties with due diligence and should be dedicated in their work.

According to rule 4(d), the intermediaries should publish the compliance reports which they receive every month consisting of the details of the complaints and the steps taken on those complaints and the number of information removed from the content while using proactive monitoring through mechanical tools.

The publication of the compliance reports is  compulsory as it promotes more clarity in the content governance practices of the social media intermediaries. So it requires the intermediaries to publish the report through which the content was removed from the media platforms.

More availability of  data in public domain can result to coordination of the social media intermediaries. However the publication of compliance reports need to be modified to every six months in order to reduce the burden on the intermediaries.

CODE OF ETHICS FOR DIGITAL MEDIA PUBLISHERS:-

As per the new rules of information technology (digital media guidelines and code of ethics) it denotes that the code of ethics shall be followed by the digital media along with

  1. news and current affairs online content providers.
  2. Selected online content providers ( including the OTT platforms)

There are certain rules of codes that has to be applied to these providers like for the current affairs content providers these are the following will be applied

Rules of journalistic code prepared by the press council of India and rues of programme code under the cable television  networks and regulation act of  1955.

For the online OTT platforms and content providers the pre requisites includes

The content should be cattegorised according to the appropriate age groups as it is mentioned

Executing an age verification technique for examining or retrieving to the adult content

obtaining the measures of control like the parental controls

Upgrading the availability of content for handicapped people.

The rules made under part 3 of the categorize it into two types basically publishers of current affairs content and the  online curated content publishers as discussed above . These new rules will be regulated by the ministry of information and broadcasting.

RULE 10 WHICH STATES AABOUT THE GRIEVARANCE REDRESSAL MECHSANISM

The journalist has to give the acceptance of the complaint within  twenty four days. He has to also address the issue and has to send its decision to the  complainant within a period of fifteen days from the time it was registered. But in case the grievance is not addressed after the fifteen days then it will intensified to the regulating body at level two of tier three redressal mechanism.

 The functioning of online curated and current affairs content is arranged into different levels.

LEVEL 1: RULE 11

According to this rule every publisher is required to appoint a grievarance redressal officer in India who will be in charge of addressing the grievances.

The officer so appointed will take decisions within fifteen days of the grievances received and has to transmit the decision to the complainant within that period of time specified. The officer will be the nodal point for interaction with the ministry of information and broadcasting and the self operating body.

LEVEL 2: SELF OPERATING PROCEDURE :-

According to rule 12 the self regulating body is an independent body created by collaboration of publishers. There can be more than one self operating body but that has to headed by the retired judge of supreme court or high court or may be an autonomous renowned person belonging to media ,entertainment, human rights, broadcasting or any such field. It must consist of six other members who are expert in those fields mentioned.

If the body is established before the information of rules then it must register within a period of thirty days and in case it is established after the notification then also it has to register within thirty days from the date of constitution

The main functions of the self operating body is that it must make sure that the publishers should follow the rules of code of ethics , shall hear the appeals which are filed by complainants , solve the issues which are unsolved or address grievances.The self regulating body has power to furnish guidance to the publishers admonishing, censoring, alerting or alarming them or requiring an apology or warning from the publisher.

LEVEL3 : OVERSIGHT MECHANISM

It consists an oversight mechanism which is incorporated by the ministry so as to make sure loyalty to the ethical code by the publishers. The ministry has authorized to appoint an officer not below the rank of joint secretary as the authorized officer. The officer so appointed will have the power to start the procedure for deletion,  removing or improving the content of information by the publisher and if there is any emergency to block the content immediately.

The ministry will constitute an interdepartmental committee and will have representatives from various ministries. The inter departmental committee will be headed by an lawful or authorized officer who will verify the complainants or  grievances and accordingly give suggestions to the ministry of information and broadcasting. The set of recommendations include admonishing, alerting , censoring entities or firms and requiring  an apology or needing them to issue a warning .If the interdepartmental committee is satisfied that an immediate action is needed to block or remove the content of information under section 69A of the IT act then in that case it will send recommendations to the ministry of information and broadcasting to do accordingly. The mechanism shall constitute an interdepartmental committee that will issue guidance, advisories to the publishers of the social media content. The committee has the responsibility or obligation to hear the complaints of grievances from the level-1 or level-2 mechanism and the complaints which are cited by the ministry of information and broadcasting.

REQUIREMENT OF ORIGINATOR OR TRACEBILITY :-

According to  rule 4(2) it requires the social media intermediary to recognize the “first originator” of information on the computer source. It is needed only for the protection, investigation, prosecution, observation or punishment for a crime with respect with  India’s sovereignty, integrity , its relations with foreign states, urging of criminal wrongdoing like sexual harassment, rape , child trafficking. The social media intermediary shall not be needed to reveal the contents or any kind of information to the first originator as instructed by the IT minister.

Another significant step  is the government has also implemented social media platforms to provide for independent verification of users. As per the latest guideline the users whoever wish to voluntarily verify they shall be provided with suitable or proper procedure to verify their accounts and provided with visible mark of verification.

The centre must have a proper plan for voluntary verification procedure of its users. A lot of social media intermediaries have started these processes. It is an optional requirement and does not force an user to examine his or her credentials and also does not affect the digital rights of the users.

Responsibility in relation to content of news and current affairs:-

A social media intermediary has to provide a proper notice on its website that all the news and current affairs content should give all the details about their user to the ministry of Information Technology (IT).

According to rule 7 which states about the unworkable of safe harbour:-

If a social media intermediary fails to comply with the rules then it shall not be allowed to safe harbour under section 79 of the information technology act, 2000.

Blocking of content during emergency:- During emergency the officers in-charge may examine the contents and the secretary, The ministry of information and broadcasting will pass an  interim order for blocking and removal of such content . The final order can only be passed after the acceptance or consent by the inter departmental committee. But if in case the social media content is not approved by the committee then the content will remain unblocked.

Removal of unauthorized information from the website:- A social media intermediary after receiving notification from the government or its agencies or receiving an order of court will not publish any unlawful information which is restricted under law with respect to the interest of India and its relations with foreign countries and its sovereignty and integrity.

CONCLUSION

The latest guidelines as released by the government and ministry of information technology was essentially an immediate requirement to develop a fundamental soft touch, self operating architecture combined with a three layer grievance redressal technique for the social media platforms operating in India. Through the code of ethics as specified under the guidelines an effort is made to govern the categorization of films and other programs of entertainment comprising of web series on the basis of the nature of content of information.

Nonetheless the adherence with the provisions of the guidelines is likely an difficult task to follow for the social and digital media platforms as it was argued that it limits the freedom of speech and expression.

The social media platforms such as whatsapp, twitter, Facebook could also face a ban if they do not adhere with the rules and follow accordingly and can also run the risk of loosing their status as intermediaries and will be held responsible for the criminal action if they do not adhere to the revised norms.

These developed intermediary guidelines have been introduced to increase the responsibility of intermediaries and monitor or govern the publication and communication of online content. The intermediaries should strictly abide by the rules and failing to do so they will loose the safe harbour protection under the IT act, providing exemption from legal action for the unlawful content posted on social media platforms.

CITIATIONS:

WEBSITES:-

  • Intermediary guidelines and code of ethics ,available at :

https://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=f4c5cf68-5014-467d-94c8-21885824b9bb)

(last visited on 13th June,2021)

  • Intermediary guidelines and digital media ethics code, available at :

https://pib.gov.in/PressReleseDetailm.aspx?PRID=1700749

(last visited on 14th June,2021)

  • Newly notified information technology guidelines and digital media ethics, available at:

Newly Notified Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rule 2021

(last visited in 14th June,2021)

Author: Neha Mohanty

Editor: Kanishka VaishSenior Editor, LexLife India.

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