FAQs miss bullseye on IT rules

By Freny Patel

The government’s attempt at providing clarity to the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, in the form of a frequently asked questions (FAQ) document has failed to address the most controversial aspects, including the traceability provision, and part III of the rules that is aimed at regulating digital news publishers and OTT (over the top) platforms.

The IT Rules, which came into force on 26 May, enhance the government’s power over social media and news portals. They were released with the stated intention of empowering social media users to fight online abuse, as well as putting a check on fake news.

A series of lawsuits filed by some of the country’s leading media houses against the IT Rules are pending before several courts, so it is perhaps understandable that the FAQs do not or cannot clarify part III of the rules, lest it be construed as sub judice.

Several courts have imposed a stay on the government’s enforcement of the rules against digital news publications, which fear the rules will curb freedom of speech and expression.

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) has passed the buck, saying that clarification for news and current affairs content should be sought from the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting.

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The Briefing is prepared by Freny Patel.