Need to check digital media, not print or TV: Govt to SC
NEW DELHI: The Union government told the Supreme Court on Monday that print and electronic media were generally responsible in dissemination of content but there was a genuine need for a regulatory mechanism for web-based digital media, which frequently crossed the line.
A fresh affidavit by the information and broadcasting ministry impressed upon a bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud, Indu Malhotra and K M Joseph that there were enough regulatory mechanisms for the print and electronic media. It said the court should leave it to the government and legislature to assess the need for further regulatory mechanism, if needed.
However, it said if at all the court was inclined to go ahead with formulating a regulatory mechanism or laying down guidelines, it should start the exercise with regard to digital media and web-based magazines and news portals. It would be desirable for the court to start “the said exercise first with web-based digital media which includes web magazines and web-based news channels and web-based newspapers as the same not only has a very wide reach but is completely uncontrolled”.
The unregulated digital media had global presence both in terms of content coming into India and content going out from within the country and it required a person to just have a smartphone to start a digital media, it said. “There is absolutely no check on web-based digital media. Apart from spreading venomous hatred, deliberate and intended instigation to not only cause violence but even terrorism, it is also capable of indulging in tarnishing the image of individuals and institutions. The said practice is, in fact, rampant,” the ministry said.
“By the very nature of its composition, the print and electronic media would rarely cross the line which may need intervention of this court frequently. As against that, by its very nature, the web-based digital media, by and large, remains unregulated,” the ministry said in the affidavit filed in proceedings initiated by the court on a PIL seeking a ban on telecast of Sudarshan TV’s ‘Bindas Bol’ programme. The telecast of the serialised programme was stopped by the SC on finding it to be maligning the Muslim community.
“In the case of electronic and print media, the security of the nation is taken care of at the time of registration and/or grant of licence to the company or the organisation intending to publish or broadcast either a newspaper or a news channel. The registration also follows only after clearance from the ministry of home affairs from the national security point of view (in case of TV channels) and other statutory authorities (in case of print media),” it said.
“In case the SC desires to travel into the wider issues, then the issue in question (including particular series or a particular TV channel), it is absolutely inevitable to start with digital media. Any further regulation of electronic and print media by the SC, either by way of guidelines or providing for any redressal mechanism, would incentivise broadcasters (who may otherwise be desirous of publishing/telecasting undesirable content) to use electronic media less and telecast/publish the same thing on digital platforms which would remain unregulated despite having wider reach without any corresponding responsibility or obligation,” the ministry said.
The Centre pointed out that to be a broadcaster or for starting a newspaper, there were several eligibility criteria and qualifying standards. “For operating or starting a news broadcast channel or the second category of channel, the company has to undergo a rigorous registration process which includes deposit of performance guarantee and also possession of minimum net worth of about Rs 20 crore for the first channel and Rs 3 crore for each new channel,” it said.
“For a non-news channel, the minimum net worth required is of Rs 5 crore for the first channel and Rs 2.5 crore for each new channel. Apart from the same, being a broadcaster or a publisher also requires registration or licensing from statutory authorities and they are also governed by statutory provisions. As pointed out, by and large, there is a self-regulatory mechanism in place which may require a little finetuning to remove the lacunae,” it added.