IAS Gyan

Daily News Analysis

Media regulation that is quite over the top

14th November, 2020 POLITY AND GOVERNANCE

Context: Bringing digital media under the I&B Ministry nips in the bud the promise of combative journalism.

  • The government’s move bringing online news and current affairs portals along with “films and audio-visual programmes made available by online content providers” under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting is as brazen, because this is an attack on the free press, targeted at a section that has been bold and forthright in speaking truth to power.
  • The Union government has brought Over The Top (OTT) platforms, or video streaming service providers such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and others, under the ambit of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.
  • It can be seen as censorship because this comes from a party, many of whose leaders’ claim to fame is that they were in the vanguard of the JP movement and fought the attack on the press during the Emergency under Indira Gandhi.
  • And now they themselves set out to make the media institutionally captive.

Making the press unfree

  • It neatly hijacks matters before the Supreme Court of India relating to freedom of the press and freedom of expression to arm the executive with control over the free press, thereby essentially making it unfree.
  • The instant case is that relating to Sudarshan News, in which hate speech is being disingenuously sought to be passed off as freedom of the press.
  • The excuse given by the government for this annexation of the digital media by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting is that the self-regulation proposals were not satisfactory.

Court as alibi

  • What we are seeing is these cases before the judiciary being made an excuse, and the institution itself eroding freedom of the press and freedom of expression, which are a fundamental right and a basic feature of the Constitution that no executive or legislature can tamper with or nullify.
  • It seeks to divide and rule the press by creating an artificial distinction between the new-age digital media (the stand-alone news portals which are already struggling to stay afloat) — which is the media of the future, the media of the millennial generation — and the older print and TV news media.
  • The print media have the oversight of the Press Council of India and the TV media of the News Broadcasters Association (NBA), and the digital media needed a regulatory framework — no less than that of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting — is weak argument.
  • There is no comparison between the Press Council of India and the NBA as professional bodies on the one hand and the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting on the other.

Fate of digital media

  • The fate of the digital media under the control of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting leaves little scope for hope and dooms the sector for both the media practitioner and the media entrepreneur and for the startups that have been the new vibrant face of contemporary journalism.
  • The move is tantamount to nipping in the bud a promise of combative journalism. It makes our democracy the poorer for it.
  • This move must be seen for what it is — politically and morally decrepit — and must be legally challenged as unconstitutional and autocratic.
  • One cannot resist wondering whether, at this rate, the government will next bring the social media under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. Where does one stop stopping free speech?