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Modi Govt Plans to Throttle Digital Media: Congress

Information & Broadcasting (I&B) Minister Smriti Irani. file photo

Information & Broadcasting (I&B) Minister Smriti Irani. file photo

According to Congress, the I&B ministry has decided to form a high-level 10-member committee to regulate digital media and online news portals.

By Rakesh Raman

Congress – an opposition political party in India – warns that the government headed by Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi may soon attack freedom of digital media.

Congress claims that the Information & Broadcasting (I&B) Minister Smriti Irani, who looks after media affairs, will try to control freedom of expression on digital media news properties

“Shortly after Smriti Irani’s new guidelines to tackle fake news blew up in the face of the government, it appears that the controversial minister is not done yet,” Congress stated.

On April 4, according to Congress, the I&B ministry decided to form a high-level 10-member committee to regulate digital media and online news portals.

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While on the face of it, the government says that it wants to regulate online news, and slowly draw up a regulatory framework for digital media, why the move was necessitated is beyond comprehension, Congress said.

The party also suggested that PM Modi should control himself on digital media before trying to issue new guidelines. Congress has started a Twitter poll that asks: “Before trying to bring in new guidelines to throttle digital media, should PM Modi first unfollow all trolls from his Twitter handle?”

Fake News Directive

Earlier, on Tuesday, the government-owned Press Information Bureau (PIB) of India had issued a terse statement to withdraw the guidelines for accreditation of journalists that it had issued on Monday to regulate “Fake News.”

It is believed that PIB had decided to change its decision at the instance of Prime Minister Office (PMO), as it is widely reported that press freedom in India is under increasing threat.

Congress said that no new regulations are required to monitor digital space when the Information Technology Act, which governments have used in the past to take down posts / pages or to block websites, already exists. Besides, Congress says, there are civil and criminal defamation laws and other relevant laws under the Indian Penal Code which apply on digital content.

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This time, according to Congress, there also seems to be an effort by the government to regulate web radio and podcasts, as suggested by the government’s stress on “digital broadcasting”.

In this day and age, Congress suggests, web radio or podcasts on politics and current affairs play a pivotal role in educating and informing citizens about important issues, thereby helping them form an opinion on various topics.

“Such is the power of the web that every citizen who puts out content in any form comes under the definition of ‘media’. Therefore, it remains to be seen if the government committee, in its regulatory zeal, steps on the toes of these citizens, thereby encroaching upon their freedoms as granted by the Constitution,” Congress said.

By Rakesh Raman, who is a national award-winning journalist and social activist. Besides working at senior editorial positions with leading media companies, he was writing an exclusive edit-page tech business column (named Technophile) regularly for The Financial Express (a daily business newspaper of The Indian Express Group).

Earlier, he had been associated with the United Nations (UN) through United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) as a digital media expert to help businesses use technology for brand marketing and business development. He also runs a free school for deserving children under his NGO – RMN Foundation.

Photo courtesy: Press Information Bureau

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