To check the increasing misuse of social media, posing challenges for law enforcement agencies, the government on Thursday notified the much-awaited Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021.

The Rules mandate firms to appoint a grievance officer, disclose the originator of the mischievous information and remove content depicting nudity or morphed pictures of women, within 24 hours.

“The government welcomes criticisms and the right to dissent and social media has been used to ask questions, too. But it is important that users of social media must be given a forum to raise the grievance and resolution, against the use, abuse and misuse of the social media. It is important that social media users also be given a forum for resolution of grievances in a time-bound manner against the abuse and misuse of social media,” Ravi Shankar Prasad, Minister of Communications and IT, told media here. “With these new Rules, we are empowering the ordinary users of social media,” he added.

“India is the world’s largest open Internet society and the government welcomes social media companies to operate in India, do business and also earn profits. However, they will have to be accountable to the Constitution and laws of the country,” Prasad said.

Therefore, amidst growing concerns around lack of transparency, accountability and rights of users related to digital media and after elaborate consultation with the public and stakeholders, the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules have been framed in exercise of powers under Section 87(2) of the Information Technology Act, 2000 and in super-session of the earlier Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines) Rules, 2011, an official statement said.

OTT, digital news media

The government has also notified the Rules for digital news media and OTT, focussing more on in-house and self-regulation mechanism whereby a robust grievance redress mechanism has been mandated while upholding journalistic and creative freedom.

This is the first time such rules are being framed for digital and online media operating within the country’s jurisdiction. Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar said that such platforms would be required to implement parental locks for content classified as U/A 13+ or higher, and reliable age-verification mechanisms for content classified as ‘A’.

Publishers of online curated content will also have to prominently display the classification rating specific to a programme together with a content descriptor, he said.

“Digital media portals have no right to spread rumour. Media’s freedom is absolute but with reasonable restrictions. Content matter, especially media, OTT and digital media will be administered by the I&B Ministry. Intermediary platforms monitoring will be done by the IT Ministry in the manner they have been doing it,” Javadekar said.

Publishers of news on digital media would be required to observe the Norms of Journalistic Conduct of the Press Council of India and the Programme Code under the Cable Television Networks Regulation Act, providing a level-playing field between the offline (print, TV) and digital media, the government said.