The Indian government’s move to police dissident voices through new digital media rules was flayed widely with the mainstream and digital media platforms and experts believing that it would have “chilling” effect on journalism.
Scared of mounting pressure of farmers protests and undeterred resolve of Kashmir people for their right to self-determination besides other anti-government movements, the Narendra Modi regime introduced The Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021.
Under the new set of rules, digital publications would be subject to oversight by the government-run committees, with the power to block publication of stories, remove stories, or even shut down entire websites.
The analysts believe that the grueling new social media rules could be a nightmare for technology giants.
The new legislation requires internet platforms like Facebook and Twitter quickly take down content that the Indian government consider “unlawful” which could have chilling effect on its citizen’s right to free speech.
Indian new law edges closer to the digital censorship of autocratic nation and could endanger the foundation to free expression online.
The social media giants had been resistance Indian government’s orders to muzzle accounts that have been critical of the country’s new agriculture reforms protests by farmers. The companies called it draconian legislation that creates legal risks for companies.
1/3- The Editors Guild of India's letter to the Honorable Prime Minister Shri @narendramodi, Honorable Minister of @MIB_India, @PrakashJavdekar & @GoI_MeitY, @OfficeOfRSP regarding the new Information Technology rules notified on Feb 25th, 2021.@PMOIndia pic.twitter.com/YgQ9ia8Stk
— Editors Guild of India (@IndEditorsGuild) March 22, 2021
As the Hindu nationalist BJP government called the new rules a “soft-touch oversight mechanism”, the Indian daily The Hindu termed it “a wolf in watchdog’s clothing.”
“The regulatory mechanism could become an operational nightmare. Worse, the casualties could be creativity and freedom of expression. The government would like to see itself as a watchdog of digital content in the larger public interest, but it comes across as a predator,” the daily said.
“The new rules take democracy and free speech in a very alarming direction, all under the guise of promoting online safety and making India more secure,” Riana Pfefferkorn, a research scholar at the Centre for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School said, according to The Guardian.
The Editors Guild of India said the rules “fundamentally alter how publishers of news operate over the internet and have the potential to seriously undermine media freedom in India”.
Many see the rules as a continuation of Modi’s government authoritarian crackdown on dissent. Freedom of the press and freedom of expression has been heavily curtailed since Modi’s BJP came to power, with mainstream media largely within the government’s grasp, but it is online news platforms who have become one of the last bastions of independent journalism.
This year, for the third year in a row, India topped the global list for most internet shutdowns, according to digital rights group Access Now. Of the 155 internet shutdowns that happened around the world in 2020, 109 of them were in India.
The Indian government had also attempted to control the social media platforms like Twitter which were used as major information tool particularly during the farmers’ protests.
'Wolf in watchdog's clothing': India's new digital media laws spark fears for freedoms….
Everything from online news to social media and streaming platforms are captured by the regulations, branded ‘palpably illegal’ by opponentshttps://t.co/3DwTJZtJtP
— Rana Ayyub (@RanaAyyub) March 11, 2021
The Guardian also reported the internet company Mozilla saying the “ripple effects of these provisions will have a devastating impact on freedom of expression, privacy and security”.
Indian digital news platforms The Wire.in and The News Minute and others challenged the IT rules in Delhi high court, arguing they are “palpably illegal”.
Siddharth Varadarajan, Editor of TheWire, described the rules as an “oppressive architecture.” “We have argued that this runs the danger of adversely affecting fundamental rights,” said Dhanya Rajendran, editor of the News Minute.
A number of experts have said the new rules are anti-democratic and unconstitutional. Noted political scientist Christophe Jaffrelot considers the rules to be an extension of executive control over digital entities, according to Global Voices, an international volunteer community of writers and human rights activists.
An official spokesman of the opposition party Indian National Congress condemned the new guidelines stating that they have been brought out without legislative discussions.
The new digital media rules come after the bashing of Modi government’s Hindu nationalist policies which had fanned anti-Muslim sentiments across the country.
Recently, a 14 years old Muslim Boy Asim Habib, was beaten up and mercilessly thrashed in India for drinking water from Hindu Temple. Took place in Ghaziabad district, the incident gained greater public attention mainly through social media.
The victim’s father – a daily wage earner and scrap seller – stated that his son stopped to drink water from a tap located inside the temple as he was thirsty. I don’t think there is any religion in the world that can refuse water to thirsty person”.