An Overview of Intermediary Guidelines & Digital Media Ethics Code, Rules 2021: Decoding Media Regulations in India

Media in India has a long history, driven over the years by large-scale digitization and higher Internet usage. Laws relating to media self-censorship are deeply rooted in India’s legal tradition and the British colonial era. The earliest regulations relating to media censorship can be traced back to 1799, when the then Governor General, (Marquis of Wellesley) introduced the first regulations to regulate the press in India. Today India has many laws, rules, regulations, guidelines and policies related to it, due to so many rules and regulations India appears to be a highly ‘legislative country’. However, these laws and regulations in the area of ​​media monopoly and media concentration are largely inconsistent, disorganized, inadequate, and largely ineffective.
Although, many laws have either been enacted or are retained with some modifications from the colonial era laws, which affect the free speech of the media. Such as India’s Anti-Espionage Act, called the Official Secrets Act. The purpose of this Act in the colonial era was to ensure state secrecy. Significantly, Media regulation is required in India to ensure a dynamic and diverse media landscape. Both public interests, such as media plurality and diversity, and freedom of speech and expression, particularly press freedom, are protected in the country. Significantly, regulators are finding it increasingly difficult to effectively enforce laws and regulations due to obstacles such as media liberalisation, privatisation, globalisation and the changing ways that audiences interact with it. Nonetheless, the commercialisation and privatisation of the communication industries pose a serious threat to democratic principles in India.
The media, including mass media, community media, and small and medium-sized media outlets, play a significant role in achieving and exercising the right to freedom of speech and expression. It is enforced by law, rules, or procedures that vary around the globe. Mass media regulation primarily targets the press, radio, and television, but it may also include film, recorded music, cable, satellite, storage and distribution technology, the internet, mobile phones, and so on. According to Mike Feintuck’s book (2006) titled, “Media Regulation, Public Interest, and the Law,” claims about ‘citizenship’ must be recognised as the foundation and endpoint of the regulatory effort if regulators are to successfully safeguard these values.
Several authors, for instance, Battistoni et. al. (2006) recommended that regulators should continually assess not only the kind of rules different regulatory bodies require but also if competition is already established, whether fewer rules might make sense. They note that regulations are hard to remove or reduce, but doing so may be necessary to stimulate innovation and growth.    Different aspects of the media landscape can be regulated in a variety of ways, including self-regulation, in which news organisations develop their own regulations, and statutory regulation, which is enforceable by law. In India, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB), which is backed by statutory bodies, autonomous organisations, subordinate organisations, and public sector undertakings, regulates the media and entertainment sector.
The Press and Registration of Books Act of 1867 and the Registration of Newspapers Act of 1956 give the MIB authority over print media in the country. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) is in charge of establishing the general regulatory framework for broadcasting as well as cable quality of service and tariff aspects.  The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology oversees digital media in part. The News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA) is the self-regulatory body for television media, while the Press Council of India (PCI) is the self-regulatory body for print media.
It was established in 1966 under the Indian Press Council Act of 1965, following the recommendations of the first Press Commission, The Press Council of India’s objectives, as stated in Section 13 of the Act, are to preserve press freedom and to maintain and improve the standards of Indian newspapers as well as news agencies.  However, the Indian Constitution guarantees press freedom, but there are some limitations, including laws against defamation, protections for whistleblowers, obstacles to information access, and hostility towards the press by the public and the government.
Awareness to Regulations 
Dr. Ritwik Ghosh (2023), research scholar at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication (SJMC) at K. R. Mangalam University (KRMU), recently defended his Ph.D. thesis titled “Fake News on Social Media: Awareness, Interventions, and Regulations in India.” The study focuses on media awareness, combating fake news, and its regulations.  Several significant conclusions have been drawn from the analysis of data gathered from media students across the nation regarding their degree of awareness level about fake news on social media. From the perspective of awareness, as per the practicing media professionals the Indian media students are not adequately prepared to combat fake news.
Therefore, media and ‘digital literacy’ must be taught as a required major course in order to give students the knowledge, skills, and ethics they need to deal with the problems caused by false information or fake news in the media sphere. Additionally, media educators need to be better equipped to teach ‘media literacy’, very significant to have a better connection of academics with the industry.  Despite the students claiming to have knowledge about fake news, the study’s outcomes indicate a lack of understanding and proficiency in this critical area, the study remarked.
In the context of regulation, the laws and regulations that are currently in place in India to deal with fake news on social media are not strictly enforced. The study indicates that there is a deficiency in strong implementation, which leads to a restricted efficacy in preventing the dissemination of false information.  This shows that in order to effectively combat fake news, more resources must be allocated and enforcement mechanisms strengthened.
It also implies that, even with an established legal framework, better coordination and cooperation between the judiciary, law enforcement, and social media platforms are necessary for the successful application of the law.  As per the study, Regarding the subjective norms constructed among Indian media students, the analysis provides several important recommendations. The study stated that these results provide insight into the elements that influence the development of subjective norms among media students and take account of the nature of social media usage, peer recommendations, media influence, the effects of social media algorithms, and the cultivation theory, the study remarked.
Following the same, the findings from survey questionnaires and in-depth interviews of the practicing media professionals, suggests that the media students in India are not adequately prepared to tackle fake news when they enter the industry as professionals.  The study results shed light on how media students form their attitudes and think about fake news, taking into consideration a series of significant determinants such as family backgrounds, personality types, preferred content, and social media post interaction patterns.
According to his study, these elements determine the degree and impact of confirmation bias, collective illusion, suspension of disbelief, echo chamber, and filter bubble, all of which are significant in determining whether or not fake news can be believed, the study remarked.  Towards Effective Self-Regulation According to the applicable laws, websites, blogs, social media platforms, and video platforms such as YouTube and Social Media serve as a means of communication for two or more people, hence they are referred to as “intermediaries.”
In the context of above, Section 69 of the Information Technology Act, 2000 and its corresponding rules, known as the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code), Rules 2021 (henceforth referred to as IT Rules, 2021), govern these.  Significantly, In order to guarantee moral behaviour and responsible reporting, the Supreme Court of India has underlined the significance of strengthening the self-regulatory systems that television networks have implemented. The News Broadcasters and Digital Association (NBDA) filed an appeal with the court, contesting statements made by the Bombay High Court regarding the efficacy of self-regulation.
The Bombay High Court expressed disapproval of media trials and noted that the current self-regulatory frameworks did not have the same characteristics as statutory frameworks. The Court recognised the importance of preventing government pre- or post-censorship while upholding moral standards in media representation. The court supported media outlets’ efforts to self-regulate, but stressed that these systems ought to be more successful in discouraging unethical behaviour.
Current Approach of Government Regulations The dominant trend in the regulation of mass media in India over the past few years has been increasing government control over the Internet and social media. The Indian government has ordered that all online news, social media and video streaming platforms such as Netflix and Amazon Prime are to be subject to state regulation, raising fears of increased censorship of digital media. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, which regulates and censors print newspapers, television, films and theater, will also have jurisdiction, under the new order, over digital news and entertainment platforms in India.
The inclusion of online news portals in the order was also seen as concerning, and part of continuing government moves to bring online news under its control. Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter (X) will also be subject to regulation, though it is unclear how this will be enforced. Central Government has issued an advisory to social media intermediaries to identify misinformation and deep fakes etc.
It is noteworthy that on November 7, 2023, the Union Government has issued an advisory to social media intermediaries to identify misinformation and deep fakes and a direction has been passed to remove any such content within 36 hours of reporting it. Under this, social media intermediaries were reminded that any failure to act in accordance with the relevant provisions of the IT Act and Rules would attract Rule 7 of the IT Rules, 2021 and the organization would be liable to lose the protection available under Section 79(1) of the Information Technology Act Can be made liable for.
It gives the aggrieved persons the right to approach the court under the provisions of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).  Therefore, it is important that platforms take proactive steps to combat this threat. Meanwhile, Shri Rajiv Chandrashekhar, Union Minister of State for Skill Development and Entrepreneurship and IT said, “The security and trust of our digital citizens is our unwavering commitment and top priority for the Narendra Modi government.  Given the significant challenges posed by misinformation and deep fakes in India, The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology has issued the second advisory within the last six months, calling on online platforms to take decisive action against the spread of deep fakes”.
Towards Solution In India, fake news is a big menace, especially in the fields of politics, religion, and health, where false information can have disastrous effects on the nation. As has been noted, there are occasionally fake news leaks in the mainstream media. It is important that media professionals become more knowledgeable and aware about fake news, and that additional workshops and training programs be arranged.  Thus, it is essential to assess the ability of Indian media students to deal with fake news and to prepare them for it so that, when they join the industry as professionals, they know how to deal with it and won’t make mistakes.
It would be better to train media students before they enter the field or industry.  The results of the concerned study will be helpful in providing outlines and recommendations for how Indian media students can effectively prepare to deal with fake news. According to researchers, this research does not provide a comparison between the preparedness of media students in India and other countries. It only focuses on media students in India and does not include media teachers who train the students.  The concerned research on fake news has presented a new model to the government, policy makers and the entire media world to stop the spread of fake news, using which fake news can be curbed in future and it is very useful for Digital India.
Thus, this research paves the way from awareness to regulation to avoid fake news.  Consequently, it is very important to assess and prepare media students for their ability to deal with fake news, so that when they join the industry or media world as professionals, they know how to deal with it. The media and entertainment industry in India can be broadly classified into print, cinematograph film, broadcast and digital media.  Each of these categories is regulated by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB), aided and supported in its activities by subordinate organisations, autonomous organisations, statutory bodies and public sector undertakings. However, there is no law mandating registration or obtaining a license for the purpose of broadcasting through OTT. Only the content is regulated under the provisions of the Intermediary Guidelines.

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