India’s federal Information and Broadcasting Ministry on Monday suggested to the apex court to regulate digital media.
The request came in the form of a government response to a notice from the Supreme Court of India in a case against a private television channel, as the ministry said, “It is absolutely inevitable to start with digital media.”
“....there is absolutely no check on the web-based digital media. Apart from spreading venomous hatred, deliberate and intended instigation to not only cause violence but even terrorism, it (digital media) is also capable of indulging in tarnishing the image of individuals and institutions,” according to the ministry response.
The top court was considering a petition by Firoz Iqbal Khan, a private citizen, against Sudarshan TV. He had argued that a proposed show on the TV channel titled ‘UPSC Jihad’ was “blatantly communal”.
The ministry, while agreeing that it was a subject matter for the competent legislature to examine, said, “....if this Hon'ble Court considers it necessary to lay down guidelines for the mainstream electronic and print media [which is not required as pointed out hereinabove] it is the need of the hour that this Hon'ble Court starts 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 ministry added.
Sudarshan TV aired a promotional video for a programme which speaks of entry of Muslim candidates into the All India Services through a federal recruiting agency: Union Public Service Commission (UPSC).
"As a Supreme Court of the nation we cannot allow you to say that Muslims are infiltrating in civil services. You cannot say that the journalist has absolute freedom doing this,” the court observed, while restraining the TV channel from telecasting the programme.
P.V. Dinesh, a lawyer practising in the Supreme Court, said that the attempt by the federal government appears to control the online media, as they have effectively controlled mainstream media and to some extent social media like Twitter and Facebook through its establishments.
“The government has effectively controlled the mainstream media, what they could not control was social media and online media. Social media also, they have control over Twitter and Facebook. But they don’t have any control over online media. So, to have absolute control, they can’t afford freedom of expression enjoyed by online media,” Dinesh told Sputnik News.
While electronic media, like television and radio and print media such as newspapers or similar publications require federal government clearance, there is no such regulation on online media in India.