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Media Hardly Above Board

For decades, the news media has lied, misled, misinformed and carried out propaganda, as the gullible masses took them for speakers of Gospel

Mainstream media has begun complaining that the new rules of the Ministry of Information Technology, which apply indiscriminately to all digital content, are hurting them. They are exulting over the fact that they have thrown several legal challenges at the government. The government rules have rightly not made distinctions between the web copies of the print media, social mediums and OTT platforms. For years, a big section of journalists has taken the people of the country for a ride with misleading headlines, inappropriate images and altogether fake news, what to talk of the half-baked opinions they peddle with impunity. While a recent petition of the National Broadcasters Association may have led to the Kerala High Court shielding broadcasters from state action, encouraged by which the Digital News Publishers Association has challenged the constitutionality of these rules in the Madras High Court and news agency PTI has moved the High Court, the Narendra Modi government ought to not cede an inch inside the courtrooms. The suggestion from some newspapers that there should have been some consultation with the media in the phase when these rules were still in the making flies in the face of the fact that repeated urges to owners of these houses have only met with the non-committal musing from them that they would “self-regulate”. The way the Press Council, the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act and the National Broadcasting Standards Authority regulate news content has proved ineffective — what with rampant misinterpretation and misrepresentation of the faith of the majority and even deliberate attempts of slander against them. To say that the IT Act, which deals with digital intermediaries, does not even apply to news publishers misses the point that the harm that the hard copies did every morning in yesteryears is nowadays compounded exponentially on the web the previous day. If broadsheets are still clear of cyberterrorism, sexually explicit and obscene material, child pornography, etc — mercifully that is — those are sections of the law that should give no editor sleepless nights.

The issue with the new IT rules, as subordinate legislation ― irrespective of the parent act ― is that it will be by and large handled by bureaucrats. Through the mechanism of a three-tiered grievance redress system, whereas “half-truths” can be ascertained and the media house circulating such messages be held accountable, the glorified clerks will do a hash job in determining what is “good taste” and “decency”. However, if the media is now crying for parliamentary scrutiny and debate, they must note that no political party in the country stands for real democracy, unbridled free speech, free market or individual liberty. A news publisher’s apprehension that he may now be arm-twisted for correction stems from the fact that social media ‘warriors’ have shamed them for falsehoods endlessly but to no avail. The media fears it can no longer get away as easily, as they do on Twitter, dismissing those who object as “trolls”.

The final war for the establishment of truth as well as the vanquishing of lies cannot be but won if the Supreme Court-led Indian judiciary once again interprets Article 19(a) as part of the fundamental right to free speech and expression without consideration of the condition that there cannot be a of libel. The advocates of anarchy, with an air of democrats about them, must meet with more than their match during the hearings. It’s a free country when no speaker of truth is gagged, not when the state says an elite posse of the woke, the left and those under an umbrella of immunity the news media provides, referring to them as ‘a certain community’, can deceive us wantonly.

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