The number of internet users in India has grown impressively over the years. Today, India has about 750 million internet users, the majority of them are mobile-only internet users. With such a reach, it gives certain sections of society to play mischievous games.
The government of India has been concerned about the narrative in news articles, particularly in digital media. Our friendly neighbour has played an active role in managing the narrative.
Foreign Direct Investment & Self Regulation of Digital Media in India
The government clarified on October 17, 2020 that the rule allowing 26% foreign direct investment (FDI) in digital news will apply to news aggregators, entities uploading streaming news on websites apps and other platforms as well as news agencies. This policy is intended to check foreign influence and interference in India’s domestic affairs, especially from China. The government has given time to digital news media till October 2021 to bring down their FDI investment to 26%.
While the policy wants to keep a check in foreign media houses setting a false narrative,
- How will the govt keep a check on domestic media houses publishing false narratives?
- How will the govt prevent malicious digital content published from outside India reaching readers in India?
- Why punish news aggregators instead of the publisher for the false narrative? After all, news aggregators are intermediaries, they don’t modify the content that is published. However, a news aggregator must bring down articles that have a false narrative.
The government has proposed digital media could be self regulated, on the lines of TV and Print media in India.
Online News To Be Regulated in India
On November 11, 2020, the government of India announced digital media (covering current affairs) and OTT (Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hotstar etc) will be regulated by the Information & Broadcasting Ministry. Basically, digital news media will be treated in par with Print and TV media in India.
With this, the Information and Broadcasting Ministry has the power to regulate policies related to news, audio, visual contents and films available on online platforms.
It would be mandatory for news websites to get themselves registered with the Registrar of Newspapers of India. We will need to wait for the detailed announcement – will personal blogs covering current affairs need to register themselves?
While a few are complaining about this may restrict their freedom of speech, the focus here is on being held accountable, not freedom of speech. One can continue to publish as they were earlier, but now ensure do it responsibly.
The Problem with Digital Media in India (Possibly Worldwide)
Freedom of expression is a must in any democratic society. But that doesn’t mean one can write and propagate false narratives.
A media house publishes reports (“as it happened”) and opinion. On a particular subject you often see opinions vary, usually diagonally opposite – this is where the leaning comes – left-leaning and right-leaning.
A journalist has a right to his or her opinion. But that opinion must not be published as a ‘report’. Many don’t hesitate to write an opinion and publish it as a report. And then starts the virality of such articles on Whatsapp University.
When false narratives in a report have been pointed out to journalists, I have seen them doing one of the following,
- Refuse to fix it
- They correct themselves on Twitter but say ‘I anyway believe in what I said’, basically what they had written was an ‘opinion’ but was camouflage as a ‘report’.
- Completely ignore the gaps in their article
The two wings – extreme left and extreme right – may think they are winning the game, but they don’t realize it is weakening the nation, it will hurt the future generations.
I have rarely seen Editors Guild of India correcting journalists. They selectively attack governments – for e.g. when a social media user is arrested for posting against a political leader, these Guilds don’t necessarily attack the government irrespective of which political party is in power.
What is an SRO?
Self Regulatory Organizations (SRO) are industry organizations, with membership from the industry, but have an independent governance board. A few good examples of SROs from the technical and financial sector in the world and India are,
- Global: Bluetooth Alliance, Fido Alliance, GSM Alliance, Wifi Alliance
- India: MFIN, Sa-Dhan, NSE, BSE
What should an SRO in Digital Media Deliver
There are several players in the digital media space in India,
- Print, TV media have extended their offerings in the digital space
- Pure digital media players who don’t have any or significant presence in other media
- News aggregators
I particularly believe ‘pure digital media’ players need to represent themselves with the government in a more mature and organized way. There are a few digital media associations already in India – but they seem to be by invite-only, open only to certain institutions.
A self-regulatory organization needs to be neutral and has to work in the interest of the readers. The SRO must respect the diversity of digital media and especially when it comes to Indian Language portals there they should have representation from across the country (not just Delhi).
- Have an independent board, with members from industry, academia, and regulators/government. Attention must be paid that the user’s interests are also represented in the board.
- Publish a code of conduct for their members.
- Establish audit guidelines for their members.
- Work on promoting Indian languages in digital space
- Create a framework for grievance redressal for all customer complaints.
- Ensure that the members adopt regulatory tools for self-reporting of data, and granular, automated, data-based audit mechanisms.
- Monitor compliance of the members to these guidelines / standards
- Penalize members who violate the code of conduct
- Represent the industry ‘as a unified group’ with the government
- Train journalists for digital media
Media SROs in India
- Print – Press Council of India
- TV – News Broadcasters Association, News Broadcasters Federation
- Radio – Association of Radio Operators for India (AROI)
- Digital Media – IAMAI, DIGIPUB News India Foundation, Digital News Publishers Association (DNPA), Indian Digital Media Association (IDMA), which comprises a mix of news outlets – Editors Guild of India
- Advertising Standards Council of India
There needs to be one strong association for digital media – we have too many. Why do a few of these digital associations have no web presence, after all, web presence is digital! How does one become a member of these associations? How do you contact them?
The members of DNPA are Times Group, India Today group, Hindustan Times, NDTV.
The members of IDMA are Republic TV, India News, Odisha TV, and News X, the Sunday Guardian, newspaper, Goa Chronicle and Op-India.
SRO Needs to Innovate For the Digital Media Ecosystem
SRO must keep the ecosystem informed of the developments in digital media around the world. E.g. “upcoming changes in digital media” type of topics need to be made aware to the entire digital media ecosystem.
There are several tools that could be developed to help digital newsrooms. Follow my journalism list on Twitter.
Journalists are busy with their daily work, they may not have time to keep track of new developments in digital media (style of writing, tools, search engine optimization, fact finding tools)
For the US market, there are a few browser extensions which tell the reader about the veracity of the news. India too needs such tools for the readers, these tools need to support Indian languages.
- InVID Verification Plugin
- Media Bias Fact Check displays a color-coded icon depending on the bias of the page you are viewing
The usage of Digital media is only going to increase further in India. With increase consumption, publishers have greater responsibility towards the readers.
The Government must have the same rules for domestic and foreign-owned media houses. By blocking foreign-owned digital properties you are only allowing them to shift the base out of India and it only makes it harder for us to punish the rogue elements.
I hope the online news ecosystem will unite and form a healthy self-regulator organisation. They owe it to their readers and the country.
- FDI cap in digital news meant to check Chinese, other foreign influence
- Digital news media policy leaves several questions unanswered
- The New 26 Per Cent FDI Cap Will Hand Foreign News Aggregators A Virtual Walk-Over Against Indian Competition
- Online News Media, Including Social Sites, Now Under Government Control
- Ten of India’s biggest media companies create Digital News Publishers Association
- 70% of Indians will access the internet in their native languages by the end of 2020