Thursday, February 25, 2021

Centre Finalizes Draft Rules For Regulation of Social Media Intermediaries, OTT Platforms & Online Media

The Central Government on Thursday announced the Draft Information Technology (Guidelines For Intermediaries And Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 to regulate the social media intermediaries, OTT platforms and online news and current affairs websites.

The Rules prescribing a Code of Ethics and a three-tier content regulation mechanism have been framed under the decades old Information Technology Act, 2000. They will come into force when notified in the Official Gazette.

Code of Ethics in Relation to Digital/Online Media

The Code of Ethics shall inter alia apply to publishers of online curated content and intermediaries.

It stipulates that an applicable entity shall exercise due caution and shall take into consideration the following factors, when deciding to feature any content on its platform:

Content which affects the sovereignty and integrity of India;

Content which threatens, endangers or jeopardizes the security of the State;

Content which is detrimental to India's friendly relations with foreign countries.

India's multi-racial and multi-religious context.

Activities, beliefs, practices, or views of any racial or religious group in India.

The Ministry shall establish an online Grievance Portal, as the central repository for receiving and processing all grievances from the public in respect of the Code of Ethics

Three-tier grievance redressal framework for news sites and OTT platforms

For ensuring adherence to the abovesaid Code of Ethics and for addressing the grievances thereof, the Government has proposed a three-tier structure as under:

Level I - Self-regulation by the applicable entity

An applicable entity shall establish appoint an India based Grievance Redressal Officer, for redressal of grievances. He shall act as the nodal point for interaction with the complainant, the self-regulating body and the Ministry.

The applicable entity shall address the grievance and inform the complainant of its decision within 15 days.

Level II — Self-regulation by the self-regulating bodies of the applicable entities

All applicable entities shall come together to form an independent "Self-Regulatory Body" that shall be headed by a retired judge of the Supreme Court or of a High Court, appointed from a panel prepared by the Ministry.

The Body will further comprise of maximum six members, being experts from the field of media, broadcasting, technology and entertainment.

This Body shall perform the following functions:

Oversee and ensure adherence to the Code of Ethics

Provide guidance to such entities on various aspects of the Code of Ethics

Address grievances that have not been resolved by such entities within the stipulated period of 15 days

Hear appeals filed by the complainant against the decision of such entities

Issue advisories to entities for ensuring compliance to the Code of Ethics

While disposing a grievance or an appeal, the Self-regulatory Body shall have the following powers:

Issue warning, censure, admonish or reprimand such entity

Require an apology by such entity

Require such entity to include a warning card or a disclaimer

Further, in case the Body is of opinion that there is a need for taking of action in relation to the complaint under Section 69A of the IT Act, refer such complaint to the Oversight Mechanism.

Level III - Oversight mechanism by the Central Government

Where the applicable entity fails to comply with the advisories of the self-regulating body, the latter shall refer the matter to the Oversight Mechanism within prescribed time.

The Oversight Mechanism with have the following functions-

Publish a charter, including Codes of Practices, for self-regulating bodies

Develop the Grievance portal for prompt disposal of the grievances

Establish an Inter-Departmental Committee for hearing grievances

Refer to the Inter-Departmental Committee grievances arising out of the decision of the self-regulating body or where no decision has been taken by the self-regulating body within the stipulated time period

Inter-Departmental Committee

The IT Ministry shall constitute an Inter-Departmental Committee consisting of representatives from:

Ministry of Information and Broadcasting

Ministry of Women and Child Development

Ministry of Law and Justice

Ministry of Home Affairs

Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology

Ministry of External Affairs

Ministry of Defence

Indian Computer Emergency Response Team

Such other Ministries and Organizations, including domain experts, that it may decide.

The functions of this Committee shall include hearing complaints regarding violation or contravention of the Code of Ethics by an applicable entity —

arising out of grievances in respect of decisions taken at Level I or II, including where no such decision is taken within the time specified

Suo Motu if in the opinion of the Committee such hearing is necessary, for reasons to be recorded in writing

Referred to it by the Ministry.

It shall then make its recommendations to the Ministry as under :

Issue warning, censure, admonish or reprimand such entity

Require an apology by such entity

Require such entity to include a warning card or a disclaimer

Due diligence to be observed by Intermediaries

Rule 4 of the 2021 Draft Rules provides 16-due diligence rules to be followed by intermediaries in India.

Further, all intermediaries shall be required to appoint a Chief Compliance Officer who shall be responsible for ensuring compliance with the Act. he shall also act as a nodal person of contact for 24x7 coordination with law enforcement agencies and officers to ensure compliance to their orders or requisitions made in accordance with the provisions of law.

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