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Dear Smriti Irani, why is nobody from online media on your panel to regulate it?

Charu Kartikeya | Updated on: 6 April 2018, 18:29 IST
(Arya Sharma)

It appears the super-busy Information and Broadcasting Ministry is working on multiple fronts simultaneously to take the Narendra Modi government's media strategy to the next level.

After the controversy over the government's misguided attempt to regulate fake news, it has now been reported that the I&B Ministry has initiated efforts to regulate online media.

A committee has reportedly been set up under the new media cell of the ministry to deliberate and come up with a “regulatory framework for online media/news portals including digital broadcasting and entertainment/infotainment sites & news/media aggregators”.

An order issued by the ministry, dated 4 April, says the terms of reference of the committee include - to delineate the sphere of online information which needs to be brought under regulation to recommend appropriate policy formulation, keeping in mind FDI norms, programme & advertising code for TV channels, norms circulated by the Press Council of India, code of ethics framed by the National Broadcasters Association and norms prescribed by the Indian Broadcasting Foundation to adopt best practices from similar mechanisms globally.

 

The problem

Several ills do plague the online media sector and therefore efforts to address them are welcome, but the way the Modi government has initiated the process is problematic. This government's record of a propagandist and an autocratic approach to media has further complicated the situation.

The most glaring gap in the constitution of this new committee is that it does not include any representative from the very sector it seeks to study. There are at least a dozen respectable players in the online news segment alone, but neither the editors nor proprietors nor any representative from these organisations are a part of this committee. How does the government propose to come up with regulations for the sector without involving the people who know it first hand?

Efforts to seek the ministry's response on this question were unsuccessful. Catch reached out to Amit Katoch, Director of the ministry's New Media Cell, via email but he did not reply.

Siddharth Varadarajan, one of the founding editors of website The Wire, has come out with scathing comments against the move. “The fact that @smritiirani and @narendramodi have excluded digital media representatives from the committee tasked with formulating rules and regulations for news websites speaks volumes for their real intentions, Varadarajan said in a series of tweets.

He also stressed that the argument that news websites are 'unregulated' is incorrect because the IT Act “is a major form of regulation”, apart from “all provisions of IPC, tax laws”.

 

Senior journalist Vikram Chandra also agreed with the contention that such an effort was meaningless without representatives from the online sector.

 

 

Interestingly, in 2016, the union government had initiated a process to frame guidelines for PIB accreditation for online journalists. Editors of several web-based organisations had also been invited to give their inputs. This process was much more open that the latest one announced by the I&B Ministry. However, no one knows what was the result of that first round of consultations for accreditation.

Accreditation for online journalists is yet to take off and the editors never heard from the PIB again.

 

 

The bigger problem

The record of this government, its ministers and large number of names associated with the ruling party does not inspire any confidence in their ability to effectively regulate the online ecosystem in a way that will not hamper its functioning.

Recently, as many as 13 ministers of the Modi-government were found pushing dubious content published by an equally dubious website.

 

BJP leaders, including ministers, have been found guilty of pushing similar content, essentially propaganda, on many occasions earlier. Several such websites keep publishing pro-BJP and anti-Opposition content and BJP leaders push them on social media.

This has led many to argue that if the BJP indeed wants to ensure that content on the web is factual and devoid of propaganda, it will have to first set its own house in order.

 

 

 

Until the BJP shows willingness to stop these propaganda wars on the internet, its efforts to regulate media will always be looked at with suspicion.

 

First published: 6 April 2018, 18:28 IST
 
Charu Kartikeya @CharuKeya

Assistant Editor at Catch, Charu enjoys covering politics and uncovering politicians. Of nine years in journalism, he spent six happily covering Parliament and parliamentarians at Lok Sabha TV and the other three as news anchor at Doordarshan News. A Royal Enfield enthusiast, he dreams of having enough time to roar away towards Ladakh, but for the moment the only miles he's covering are the 20-km stretch between home and work.

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