Introduction

In India there has been a surge in the usage of social media for daily news and entertainment. In light of this dependency on social media there was a need for new rules which would regulate all the social media channels in place. Pursuant to this the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology bought The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, replacing the Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines) Rules 2011.The New Rules were notified on 25th February 2021. It provided a three-month timeline to social media intermediaries in order to comply with it.

Under the New Rules the social media intermediaries, with registered users in India, above a notified threshold, have been classified as significant social media intermediaries (SSMIs). The SSMIs are required to adhere to the rules and regulations established under the IT Rules 2021.

Highlights of the Rules 2021

Due diligence

The intermediaries must exercise due diligence as laid out in the new rules which are:

  • The intermediaries (Social Media Intermediary and Significant Social Media Intermediary) should prominently publish on their website or app, the rules and regulations, privacy policy, and terms and conditions. The policy must inform the user that the user is prohibited from hosting, displaying, uploading, modifying, publishing, transmitting, storing, updating, or storing any information which belongs to another person or is contrary to the laws in force, defamatory, obscene, libellous, harassing, etc. or is misleading to general public.
  • The intermediaries must block access to illegal information within 36 hours of receiving a court order.
  • Within 24 hours of receiving a complaint the intermediaries should take appropriate steps to stop the access to material which is non-consensual and sexual in nature.
  • The information collected from a user for registration on the computer resource shall be retained for a period of 180 days after any cancellation or withdrawal of the user’s registration.
  • It is mandatory to publish a Monthly Compliance Report containing details of complaints received and actions taken.
  • According to the rules the intermediaries must appoint Chief Compliance Officer, a Nodal Contact Person, and a Resident Grievance person.

Code of ethics

The code of ethics mentioned in the rules applies to publishers of digital media including online news channels, current affairs content provider and OTT platforms. The new Rules prescribe that news publishers in digital media must follow the Norms of Journalistic Conduct and Cable Television Networks Regulation Act, 1995. The OTT platforms are required the demarcate their content into age-appropriate categories (U, U/A 7+, U/A13+, U/A16+ and A).

Grievance mechanism

A three-level grievance redressal mechanism has been introduced under the IT Rules 2021, which are as follows:

Level 1 – Self regulation by the Publisher: Rule 11 states that the publisher shall appoint a Grievance Redressal Officer who is based in India who shall be responsible for the redressal of grievances by it. The officer shall take decision on the grievance within 15 days of its receipt.

Level 2 – Self Regulatory Body: According to Rule 12 there maybe one or more self-regulatory bodies of publishers. Such body shall oversee the adherence by the publisher to the Code of Ethics and address grievances that have not been resolved by the publisher within the specified period of 15 days.

Level 3 – Oversight Mechanism: The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting shall formulate an oversight mechanism. It shall publish a charter for self-regulating bodies, including Codes of Practices. It shall establish an Inter-Departmental Committee for hearing grievances.

Blocking of information

In case of emergency, the authorised officers may examine digital media content and the Secretary, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, may pass an interim direction for blocking of such content. The final order is passed by the Secretary, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting after taking recommendations from the Inter-Departmental Committee.

Conclusion

The IT Rules 2021 prescribe a framework for regulating the content published by online publishers of news and current affairs content and have significantly wider scope as they have bought OTT platforms under its ambit.

Under the new Rules a mechanism for redressal and timely resolution of grievance has been established and special emphasis has been given on the protection of women and children from sexual offences, fake news and misuse of the social media.