News websites have to give govt details on editorial head, ownership: I&B Secretary

Digital news portals will soon have to provide the Information and Broadcasting (I&B) Ministry details on their editorial head, ownership, address, and designated grievance officer, among other things, as the government attempts to map out the online news media landscape, I&B Secretary Amit Khare told The Indian Express.

“Currently, the government doesn’t have a complete picture of how many players there are in this sector and who they are,” he said. “If you log on to their websites, you won’t even find basic information on their office address or editor-in-chief.”

According to sources, the ministry will soon release a form that all digital news outlets must fill and submit to the ministry in a month.

I&B Minister Prakash Javadekar on Thursday cited lack of information about digital media players as the reason why there was no consultation with them before releasing guidelines for them. Khare, however, said that there is little need for one even if the government had all the information on news websites, since the websites are only expected to follow the established code of ethics that print and TV are already doing. “We don’t think anyone will object to that. There is no new obligation on them,” he said.

Under the new guidelines, digital news outlets will have to follow the programme code under the Cable Television Networks Regulation Act and Norms of Journalistic Conduct of the Press Council of India, which broadly guide the content put out in TV and print media.

Asked about the need to set up a government oversight mechanism for digital news websites when there’s no such committee for print, Khare said, “The Press Council of India governs the print medium. There is no such body before digital media. If there is one in future then there will be no need for such a committee.”

Khare, however, dismissed similar criticism of consultation that came from OTT platforms. “The (I&B) minister met them twice in Delhi. We had two rounds of discussion in Mumbai and Chennai. A consultation doesn’t mean concurrence. In principle, the OTT platforms had agreed to self-regulation, but their proposal lacked an independent body for oversight and appeals. They wanted to address grievances internally, and there was no appeal mechanism. That wasn’t acceptable to us.”

On fears of excessive government interference in the working of OTT platforms, the I&B Secretary said that such concerns were unfounded, as the guidelines propose “a soft-touch self-regulationn model for OTT and digital media”. He said, “It balances the creativity of the OTT platforms and the rights of the citizens to have their grievances redressed.”

“Moreover, having a formal three-tier redressal mechanism, in the long run, will only help the OTT platforms,” Khare said. “Currently, there are so many FIRs being lodged against different web series. If there is a formal mechanism of grievance redressal and appeal, then these platforms can inform courts of this mechanism and the courts will always encourage citizens to approach these bodies first.”

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