In recent days we have been discussing the Social Media Platforms like Twitter and how the platform is supporting ideologically biased views. These platforms are normally referred to as “Social Media”. By the use of the term “Media” these platforms get a perceived right to claim “Freedom of Press” as an excuse in reporting “Views” as “News”. Internet gave an excellent opportunity for creating “Crowd Sourced News” through blogs and micro blogging platforms like Twitter and the respect that the tag of “Social Media” carried is in danger of being permanently eroded.
In the recent blog response of Twitter it claimed that it is committed to enforce “Judiciously” and “Impartially” enforced action on content as per their policy. It says it took steps to remove many tweets as per the Government order but it is noticed that they did not remove all. They recorded their judgement on a few requests and deviated from the Government order. Additionally the owner of Twitter posted his own “Likes” to some of the controversial posts taking sides in the controversy. He has now followed up with the opening of another front on “Crypto Currencies” to fight against the Indian Government thereby indicating clearly the stand of Twitter as a media.
It is surprising that many of these agencies are not able to distinguish their roles as “A platform for use by registered users” and a “Publication” which needs some clarification.
Let us take an example.
If Times of India has a website and posts the reports filed by their reporters, then it is a media activity. Such reports are filed by accredited reporters and filtered by an editorial team as per the journalistic principles.
But when a twitter user posts his views on the micro blogging platform, he takes on the role of a reporter, editor and publisher. Twitter should be only a “Technical Platform” on which the publishing takes place.
If Twitter wants to take on the role of a publisher then every one of the users who are allowed to post are like accredited news reporters on behalf of Twitter the publishing agency. Such an agency may have a claim to be called as a “Publication” and as long as they take responsibility for content, it is their choice to be a publisher.
If there is any accreditation system in law similar to registration of print journals and news papers, then the publication has to adhere to it. Since there is no such requirement now, Twitter is not registered as a News Publication.
The law of Internet provides a special status to such platforms as “Intermediaries” and gives them protection from liability if any offences are committed by the platform users under Section 79 of Information Technology Act 2000 as amended in 2008 (ITA 2000/8). However to invoke the protection under this section, an Internet service should be neutral to the posts and should not take a decision on the content whether it represents “Freedom of Speech” or not. When a judicial authority asks any content to be removed, the order should be complied with immediately. If a take down request is received from any other law enforcement authority, it should be checked if it is issued in accordance with the law (Section 69A of ITA 2000/8) and if so should be honoured without demur.
In other instances where the take down request is received directly from the affected person, then the platform needs to take a view based on an assessment of…
a) By refusing the request, am I adversely affecting the alleged victim?
b) By accepting the request, am I adversely affecting the freedom of expression of the person posting the information?
In taking this decision, the platform should make reference to either the Court or any other legal authority except when it is found necessary to take a temporary emergent view. Naavi.org considered this kind of a situation way back in the year 2000 and the recommendation is contained in the article titled “How to Counter Rogue Sites”
Though this was written in the context of sites like dalitstan.org, (at a time when Twitter did not exist) the principle is relevant now when Twitter becomes the “Rogue Platform”. The recommendation was to flag the objected content until a direction can be received from a Court. Probably such a direction can also be sought from the MHA/MeitY which has the powers under sections 69,69A or 69B or 70B to issue instructions to regulate such content.
YouTube turning Rogue?
At this point of time we need to also look at the policies of Youtube.com which allows some videos to be hosted and some removed and the logic similar to what is applied for Twitter should apply here also.
In the recent days, Naavi.org had pointed out one occasion when the Youtube channel of Praveen Mohan was blocked though he was putting up well researched non political articles on Temple architecture and completely apolitical.
In this context the role of YouTube whether it is an intermediary or a content owning and publishing platform comes up for debate.
Just as the starting of Twitter as a micro blogging site to provide a “Voice” to the ordinary internet users and make them “Citizen Journalists” were mis-used, there is a danger of the YouTube platform also being misused.
The Youtube gives a wonderful service where by individuals can consistently post content and develop a channel on which advertisements can be taken and a revenue model can be built up. You Tube has some policy by which advertising is permitted only after a threshold level of activity is reached by the Channel. This requires a certain minimum number of “Followers” and “Views”.
Since this is a number game many “Youtubers” are emerging with Tiktok type content which attracts certain class of audience for specific interests which need not always be good to the society.
The debate of what is “Freedom of Speech” and what is not will therefore be relevant in this context also.
While observing this new phenomenon of “YouTubers” is is found that a few unscrupulous publishers are creeping into Youtube channels posting content which is defamatory and threatening to certain well known persons in the physical society and to score personal scores.
At the same time there are many responsible journalists who are fed up of the commercialization and politicization of the traditional media and want to pursue genuine principles of journalism.
We did a brief study of some Kannada Channels on You Tube and the findings were interesting.
While channels like Vijaytimes exist and pursue journalistic principles , there are also certain you tube channels which donot follow any journalistic principles. These channels some of whom call themselves “TV” have neither the experience as journalists nor the ethics related to fair reporting. They are the “Yellow Journals” of the digital world.
In one of the recent instances, we came across a channel titled “Garuda TV” which gave an impression that it is a “TV channel” when some videos from the channel were circulated in WhatsApp. Similarly there was a channel called “Gardi Gammat” which also posts videos. We donot know the original objective of such channels. There are some reports in these channels which may be news worthy also. But some of the reports relate to defamation and contains threats which indicate a tendency to post content for ulterior purposes whether by design or ignorance.
Some of the presenters in these channels donot seem to know the real principles of journalism and try to narrate incidents as if the incidents occurred in front of their eyes and they were eye witnesses. Some go to the extent of importing visuals from the Internet and mix it up with the narration providing a completely misleading viewer experience. This style of narration is unprofessional.
It is hightime that these so called “Channels” realize that news reporting is not “Story weaving” and even what is called as “Investigative Journalism” is to be backed by real “Investigation” and cannot be based on heresay.
It is high time that we flag such unprofessional channels so that the tendency to misuse free Internet through motivated articles and videos in the guise of news reports is nipped in the bud.
Naavi.org is therefore proposing to the MeitY that just as under Section 79 of ITA 2000, it has issued notifications for Cyber Cafes and Matrimonial websites, it should issue guidelines on websites which project themselves as “Media” or “TV” either through websites or blogs or through video hosting platforms.
There is no reason to curb the free publishing activity even by these channels but the way the activity is promoted. As long as a person posts his views under his correct identity, whether he is criticizing or supporting the Government it is fine. But when the identity of the entity is not properly displayed, contact information is faulty or fake names are used for news credits, then there is a need for regulations to intervene.
In the now proposed Personal Data Protection Act (PDPB 2019) there is a provision to recognize a category of publishers called “Social Media Intermediaries” which will certainly apply to Twitter WhatsApp, Face Book and Youtube. These intermediaries are required to provide a mandatory option to “Verify” the members so that fake postings may be segregated from unverified reports. Even today ethical journals do use the term “Received from Unverified sources” when publishing information which could be controversial but cannot wait confirmation of counter views. At the same time such journalists take the earliest opportunity to get counter views and publish it along with the original views when issues like defamation etc are involved.
It is possible that if PDPB 2019 defines the “Social Media Intermediaries” on the basis of size of followers or members alone, the small entities mentioned above will escape regulation. Hence the Data Protection Authority needs to keep the principle of what is a “Social Media” and what is an “Intermediary” and design an appropriate operative definition of a “Social Media Intermediary” in the regulations that will be introduced later.
The Press council of India has released some norms of Journalistic Conduct in it’s 2010 edition. This mentions Principles and Ethics few of them are listed as below.
- Accuracy and Fairness – It is defined Press shall not publish inaccurate, baseless, graceless, misleading or distorted material.
- Pre-Publication Verification – It is defined on receipt of a report or article which is of public interest the editor should check with due care and attention of its facts and accuracy of the information
- Investigative journalism, its norms and parameters – Basic elements here are – It has to be work of the reporter, his story on the facts being investigated, detected and verified by him and not hearsay or on derivate evidence collected by a third party, not checked up from direct, authentic sources by the reporter himself.
- They should resist temptation from half-baked incomplete, doubtful facts, not fully checked up and verified from authentic sources by the reporter himself. Facts are vital they should be checked and cross-checked whenever possible.
- Trial by Media – Media is not expected to conduct it’s own parallel trial.
- Norms of Photo Journalism – Images should be accurate, All subjects should be treated with RESPECT and DIGNITY.
These and more such ethical guidelines need to be brought into the “Social Media Guidelines” under ITA 2000 even before the PDPB 2019 becomes a law. Additionally many websites or channels donot follow the requirements of the current Section 79 which also need to be monitored and compliance ensured,
Since some of the suggestions made above relate to Karnataka, we urge Karnataka Government to take up proactive steps to introduce such norms applicable within the jurisdiction of Karnataka which can be also suggested for implementation across the country.
At the same time I also urge genuine journalists who want to be on You Tube channels to to ensure that a few bad journalists donot spoil the reputation of Internet journalists in general and ensure that some self regulation can be implemented.
Naavi.org had suggested such self regulation at least a decade and half back but it did not materialize. Perhaps time has come now and responsible online journalists of Karnataka come together to form a “Society of Ethical Online Journalists” who will streer clear of the financial allurement of George Soros or committed Political ideologies and re-establish the respect which is due to Journalism as the fourth pillar of democracy.