20:27 GMT20 April 2021
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    The scathingly critical article in the New York Times accuses Prime Minister Narendra Modi of "eroding" India's secular republic and turning it into a "Hindu" republic. It says that "taming" the digital news publishers which don't rely on government advertising revenue, unlike print and electronic media, was another step in the direction.

    The New York Times is facing a backlash in India over its criticism of the new government rules that critics believe are meant to "tame" Indian news media websites which are critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

    ​In its report on the issue, the NYT says that even as Prime Minister Modi’s government has “cultivated and cowed” large parts of the Indian news media in recent years, online outlets remained “untamed”.

    India's new guidelines envisage treating news websites at par with traditional media like newspapers and broadcasters, also granting the government the power to take the websites down in case readers complain.

    “With names like The Wire, The Print, The Scroll, and News Laundry, these publications lack big corporate owners that Mr. Modi’s party can court. They also don’t depend on government advertising money that officials can threaten to withhold,” states the NYT article, listing several Indian news portals, which claim to be “independent” and “fearless”.

    “Now, the platforms say, Mr. Modi is working to rein them in, too,” says the report.

    The American publisher says that the Prime Minister Modi has been “emboldened” by his federal election win in 2019, which prompted him to crack down on dissenting voices in his bid to “reshape India’s traditionally secular republic to match his vision of a Hindu-centric economic powerhouse”.

    “To smooth the way, he has contained the country’s major newspapers and broadcasters. Siding with the government brings protection and business. By contrast, those that take a critical look at his party and support base face blackouts or tax investigations,” it says.

    As per India’s new Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, digital news publishers in the country must adhere to the “Code of Ethics”, establish a “Grievance Redressal Mechanism” as well as keep the authorities in the loop over complaints received about the content carried on their websites.

    The online publishers had until last week to comply with the new rules. However, a group of digital publishers also challenged the new rules in the Delhi High Court this month, and a ruling on their legality is still awaited.

    Besides calling upon the digital publishers to establish a grievance redressal mechanism as well as “self-regulate” their news and current affairs content, the new federal guidelines also allow the authorities the power to “block” the content if complaints about it are not satisfactorily addressed.

    According to the rules, in an emergency situation, the Secretary of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, as an "interim measure", issue such directions to such identified or identifiable persons, publishers or intermediaries in control of such a computer.

    “In cases of an emergency nature, the Secretary, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, may, if he is satisfied that it is necessary or expedient and justifiable, to block public access to any information or part thereof through any computer resource and after recording the reasons in writing, and as an interim measure issue such directions as he may consider necessary to such identified or identifiable persons, publishers or intermediary in control of such computer,s” say the rules.

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