Government Chalks New Guidelines For Social Media and OTT Platforms

As per the rules, social media intermediaries have to appoint grievance officer and OTT platforms have to self-classify the content into five age-based categories
Government Chalks New Guidelines For Social Media and OTT Platforms
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Ravi Shankar Prashad

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The government on Thursday unveiled a new set of policies for social media and over-the-top (OTT) platforms present in the country. In a press conference addressed by Union ministers Ravi Shankar Prasad of ministry of electronics and information technology (MeitY) and Prakash Javadekar of ministry of information and broadcasting.

The government noted that there is no robust complaint mechanism wherein ordinary users of social media and OTT platforms can register their complaint and get it redressed within a defined timeline. 

In terms of social media, the government welcomes social media companies to operate in India, do business and earn profits. “However, they will have to be accountable to the Constitution and laws of India. 

During a press conference Prasad said, "I want to make it very clear that we have not framed any new law or any additional law. Under the existing IT act mechanism itself in excise of Section 87 rule making power we have framed these rules & code of ethics.”

Social Media Rules

The government has asked to empower users  by mandating intermediaries, including social media intermediaries, to establish a grievance redressal mechanism for receiving resolving complaints from the users or victims. Intermediaries have to appoint a grievance officer to deal with such complaints and share the name and contact details of such officers. Grievance officer shall acknowledge the complaint within 24 hours and resolve it within 15 days from its receipt.

New guidelines that will be administered by MeitY seek social media platforms to remove or disable access within  24 hours after receiving complaints of contents that exposes  private areas of individuals, show such individuals in full or partial nudity or in sexual act or is in the nature of impersonation including morphed images, etc. 

Such a complaint can be filed either by the individual or by any other person on his/her behalf, the government noted. 

As per the new guidelines, major social media platforms have to appoint a chief compliance officer who shall be responsible for ensuring compliance with the Act and Rules. Such a person should be a resident in India. Apart from this, companies have to appoint a nodal contact person for 24x7 coordination with law enforcement agencies and a resident grievance officer who shall perform the functions mentioned under grievance redressal mechanism. Significant social media platforms also have to publish a monthly compliance report mentioning the details of complaints received and action taken on the complaints as well as details of contents removed proactively by the significant social media intermediary.

The government has also ordered significant social media platforms with messassing features to enable identification of the first originator of information that is required only for the purposes of prevention, detection, investigation, prosecution or punishment of an offence related to sovereignty and integrity of India, and others. The government sought social media platforms to remove any content  which is prohibited under any law in relation to the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India, public order, friendly relations with foreign countries etc. upon receiving instructions from government and court. 

All these rules will come in effect  three months after publication of these rules. 

OTT Platforms

In terms of OTT platforms, the government noted that there have been widespread concerns about issues relating to digital contents both on digital media and OTT platforms.

The government claims that new rules establish a soft-touch self-regulatory architecture and a code of ethics and three tier grievance redressal mechanism for news publishers and OTT platforms and digital media.

Code of ethics for online news, OTT platforms and digital media prescribe the guidelines to be followed by OTT platforms and online news and digital media entities. The OTT platforms have to self-classify the content into five age-based categories- U (Universal), U/A 7+, U/A 13+, U/A 16+, and A (Adult).

Platforms would be required to implement parental locks for content classified as U/A 13+ or higher, and reliable age verification mechanisms for content classified as “A”. 

Online digital media would be required to observe Norms of Journalistic Conduct of the Press Council of India and the Programme Code under the Cable Television Networks Regulation Act thereby providing a level playing field between the offline (Print, TV) and digital media.

A three-level grievance redressal mechanism has been established under the rules with different levels of self-regulation.

  • Level-I: Self-regulation by the publishers;

  • Level-II: Self-regulation by the self-regulating bodies of the publishers;

  • Level-III: Oversight mechanism.

Self-regulation by the Publisher: Publisher shall appoint a grievance redressal officer based in India who shall be responsible for the redressal of grievances received by it. The officer shall take decision on every grievance received by it within 15 days.

New rules seek formation of a self-regulatory body which shall be headed by a retired judge of the Supreme Court, a high court or independent eminent person and have not more than six members. Such a body will have to register with the ministry of information and broadcasting. This body will oversee the adherence by the publisher to the code of ethics and address grievances that have not been resolved by the publisher within 15 days.

Oversight mechanism: Ministry of information and broadcasting shall formulate an oversight mechanism. It shall publish a charter for self-regulating bodies, including codes of practices. It shall establish an inter-departmental committee for hearing grievances.  

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