TOPIC – A wolf in watchdog’s clothing

The new rules introduced by the Centre last week to regulate all types of digital platforms, with the idea of redressing user grievances and ensuring compliance with the law, are deeply unsettling as they will end up giving the government a good deal of leverage over online news publishers and intermediaries. This holds troubling implications for freedom of expression and right to information. Electronics and IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, while launching ‘The Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021’, presented it as a “soft­touch oversight mechanism”. A government press note termed it “progressive” and “liberal”. It also claimed the rules seek to “address people’s varied concerns while removing any misapprehension about curbing creativity and freedom of speech and expression”. The soft tone notwithstanding, these rules force digital news publishers and video streaming services to adhere to a cumbersome three­tier structure of regulation, with a government committee at its apex. This, in itself, is unprecedented in a country where the news media have been given the space all along to self­regulate, based on the mature understanding that any government presence could have a chilling effect on free speech and conversations. That the new rules pertain only to digital news media, and not to the whole of the news media, hardly provides comfort, as the former is increasingly becoming a prime source of news and views. Further, it is of significant concern that the purview of the IT Act, 2000, has been expanded to bring digital news media under its regulatory ambit without legislative action, which digital liberties organizations such as the Internet Freedom Foundation have flagged. The three­tier regulatory mechanism will seek to redress complaints with respect to the digital platforms’ adherence to a Code of Ethics, which among other things includes the ‘Norms of Journalistic Conduct’, compiled by the Press Council of India, the Programme Code of the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, as also a negative list of content that shall not be published (essentially what one would encounter under law as reasonable restrictions to free speech). While there is not much that is wrong with the Code of Ethics per se, what is problematic is that it will take little to bring this regulatory mechanism to vicious life. According to the rules, “Any person having a grievance regarding content published by a publisher in relation to the Code of Ethics may furnish his grievance on the grievance mechanism established by the publisher.” So, literally anyone could force a digital platform to take up any issue. It has to be taken up first, under the new rules, by the digital platform’s grievance officer. If there is no resolution or if the complainant is dissatisfied, this can be escalated to a “self­regulating” body of publishers. This can then be escalated to the highest level, the government’s Oversight Mechanism, according to which an inter­departmental committee will be set up to address the grievance. Apart from imposing a compliance burden on digital publishers — many are small entities — this also opens the floodgates for all kinds of interventions.


Grievances (noun) – An allegation that something imposes an illegal obligation.

Synonyms – complaint, grudge, discontent, gripe, grumble

Antonyms – praises, ache, adoration, amorousness, appetite

Leverage (noun) – Investing with borrowed money as a way to amplify potential gains

Synonyms – influence, clou,t sway, benefit, exploit

Antonyms – charter, inferiority, poorness, downside

Cumbersome (adjective) – Difficult to handle

Synonyms – unwieldy, awkward, clumsy, ponderous, inept

Antonyms – graceful, handy, agile, comfy, adept

Unprecedented (adjective) – Having no precedent or example

Synonyms – unparalleled, singular, unusual, rare

Antonyms – traditional, familiar, precedented, prosaic, orthodox

Ambit (noun) – An area in which something acts or operates or has power

Synonyms – scope, compass, orbit, extent, breadth

Antonyms – angle, area, forefront, verge

Adherence (noun) – Faithful support for a cause or political part

Synonyms – adhesion, attachment, loyalty, accession, fidelity

Antonyms – detachment, deviation, neglect, aversion

Vicious (adjective) – Having the nature of vice

Synonyms – cruel, savage, wicked, brutal, nasty

Antonyms – kind, benevolent, friendly, virgin

Furnish (verb) – Give something useful or necessary

Synonyms – equip, contribute, render, bestow, provision

Antonyms – conceal, bereave, deny, deprive, abduct

Escalated (verb) – To become stronger or more serious

Synonyms – climb, develop, spiral, intensify, soar

Antonyms – decreased, diminished, bounded, finite, nethermost

Intervention (noun) – The act of inserting one thing between others

Synonyms – interference, intercession, intrusion, meddling, arbitration

Antonyms – challenge, affront, exasperation, incitation, abetment