Processing of Grievance filed by the Complainant regarding Published Content: IT Rules, 2021

This article is based on rule 10 of IT Rules, 2021. I have mainly written about the grievance mechanism and explained about what all are the arrangements that should be followed

Introduction

In a news release, the government stated that there have been widespread worries about difficulties connected to digital content on either digital media and OTT platforms or certification. A number of Public Interest Litigation and other cases against OTT platforms have also been launched in various high courts and before the Supreme Court of India, demanding the regulation of content streamed on the platforms.

All publishers of online news content and “online curated content” are required to follow the government’s Code of Ethics. This Code, which is appended to the Rules, provides content classification, age limitations, and accessibility rules. They also offer issue-specific guidance on topics including prejudice, violence, and nudity.

“Online curated content” does not include content contributed by individual individuals on a user-generated video-sharing platform, for example. Instead, only first-party content developed or curated by the publisher would be allowed (i.e., an OTT streaming service).

If any person has a grievance regarding content published by any publisher in relation to the Code of Ethics under Rule 9. Rule 9 of Information Technology Act, 2021
Such a person may furnish his grievance on the grievance mechanism established by the publisher under Rule 11. Rule 11 of Information Technology Act, 2021

This article discusses the processing of Grievance filed by the Complainant regarding the published content under the grievance mechanism.

According to Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, the Indian government saw the necessity for a dedicated webpage where residents could submit their complaints. “The government supports criticism and the right to dissent,” he said, “but it is critical for social media users to have a platform to air their grievances about the misuse of social media.”

Any person who has a complaint about content published by a publication that violates the Code of Ethics may file a complaint through the publisher’s grievance procedure established under Rule 11.

Within twenty-four hours of receiving the grievance for information and record, the publisher shall develop and issue an acknowledgment of the grievance for the benefit of the complainant.

The following arrangement shall govern the way of grievance redressal:

  • Anyone who has a complaint about anything published on social media or OTT platforms that violate the Code of Ethics can file a complaint on the Grievance Portal.
  • Within 24 hours of registration, the portal will generate and issue an acknowledgment of the grievance for the benefit of the complainant, and electronically direct the grievance to the appropriate entity for resolution, as well as refer the grievance to the Ministry and the self-regulating body for information and record.
  • Within 15 days after the registration, the applicable publisher must address the complaint and notify the complainant of its decision.
  • If the applicable publisher’s decision is not conveyed to the complainant within the 15-day time limit, the complaint will be escalated to a self-regulatory body led by a former SC or HC judge of which such publisher is a member.
  • If a complainant is dissatisfied with the appropriate publisher’s response, they may file a grievance through the Grievance portal with the self-regulating body of which the entity is a member within 15 days of obtaining the decision.
  • Within fifteen days, the self-regulating body must handle the grievance, communicate its decision to the publisher in the form of guidance or advisory, and notify the complainant of its judgment.
  • If the complainant is dissatisfied with the self-regulating body’s decision, it may file an appeal with the Oversight Mechanism referred to in rule 13 within fifteen days after the decision.
“When asked by a court or a government authority, social media platforms will be forced to reveal the first creator of the malicious tweet or post,” the minister continued, referring to the self-regulatory body’s jurisdiction. https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/tech/technology/twitter-has-failed-to-comply-with-intermediary-guidelines-ravi-shankar-prasad/articleshow/83566900.cms?from=mdr
Where should any person having a grievance regarding content published by a publisher in relation to the Code of Ethics may furnish his grievance?

Any person who has a grievance regarding content published by a publisher in relation to the Code of Ethics may furnish his grievance through the grievance mechanism established by the publisher.

Grievance redressal mechanism of an intermediary (Rule 3(2)(a) of Information Technology Act, 2021):

The intermediary must prominently display the name of the Grievance Officer and his contact information on its website and mobile-based application, as well as the mechanism by which a user or a victim may file a complaint about a violation of this rule or any other matter relating to the computer resources made available by it.

Within twenty-four hours of receiving a complaint from an individual or any person acting on his behalf in relation to any content that is prima facie in the nature of any material that exposes the private area of such individual, shows such individual in full or partial nudity, or shows or depicts such individual in any sexual act or conduct, or is in the nature of impersonation in an electronic form, including artificially morphed images of such individual, the intermediary shall remove the content. The publisher shall generate and issue an acknowledgment of the grievance for the benefit of the complainant within twenty-four hours of it being furnished for information and record.

What is the arrangement of grievance redressal?

There are three tiers of regulation for online curated material, such as news and current affairs information.

Self-Regulating Mechanism (Level 1) Rule 11 of the IT Rules, 2021: 

The Publisher’s grievance redressal procedure is included at this level. Every publisher (Level i) is required to designate a Grievance Redressal Officer in India who will be responsible for resolving complaints. Rule 11 of Information Technology Act,2021

Within fifteen days, the stated officer must make a decision on each grievance he receives, and the decision must be conveyed to the complainant within the time frame given.

The officer in question is also required to be the point of contact for complaints on the Code of Ethics, as well as a nodal point for communication with the complainant, the self-regulatory body, and the MIB.

There may appear two scenarios, either the decision of the publisher is not communicated to the complainant, or the complainant is not satisfied with the decision.

If the publisher’s (Level i) decision is not conveyed to the complainant within the fifteen-days period, the complaint will be escalated to the self–regulating body (Level ii)  of which the publisher is a member. If the complainant is dissatisfied with the publisher’s (Level i) decision, he or she may elect to appeal to the self-regulatory body (Level ii) to which the publisher belongs within fifteen days of obtaining the judgment. Rule 10 (3)(b) of Information Technology Act, 2021, and Rule 10 (3)(c) of Information Technology Act, 2021

Then the grievance shall be escalated to the level of the self-regulating body, i.e., Level-2.

Self-Regulating Mechanism (Level 2) Rule 12 of IT Rules, 2021:

Level 2 consists of a self-regulatory organization, which is supposed to be an autonomous body formed by a publisher’s association. There may be more than one self-regulatory body, each of which must be led by a retired Supreme Court or High Court judge or an “independent eminent person” with expertise in media, broadcasting, entertainment, child rights, human rights, or any other relevant field. Up to six other members of the self-regulatory body must be experts in the aforementioned subjects.

The MIB requires that the self-regulatory body be registered.

  • If the body was formed before the rules were published, it must be registered before thirty days of publication, and
  • If it was formed after the rules were published, it must be registered within thirty days of publication.

The self-regulating body shall address the grievance referred to, and convey its decision in the form of guidance or advisory to the publisher, and inform the complainant of such decision within a period of fifteen days.

The self-regulatory organization is responsible for ensuring that publishers follow the Code of Ethics, providing guidance on the subject, addressing unresolved grievances with the publishers, and hearing appeals made by complainants against the publishers’ decisions. 

The body also has the authority to offer recommendations or advisories to publishers, including ‘warning, censuring, admonishing, or reprimanding’ them or seeking an apology, warning card, or disclaimer from them. The self-regulatory body can also order the publisher of online curated material to reclassify content ratings, modify age categorization and access control measures, and report content to the Ministry for review.

If the complainant is not satisfied with the decision of the self-regulating body, it may, within fifteen days of such decision, prefer an appeal to the Oversight Mechanism (Level iii) referred to in rule 13 for resolution Rule 10 (3)(e) of Information Technology Act, 2021

Oversight Mechanism (Level 3) Rule 13 of IT Act, 2021: At the highest level, the Ministry establishes an Oversight Mechanism to guarantee that the publications follow the Code of Ethics. The Ministry has been given the authority to appoint an “Authorized Officer” who is not below the rank of Joint Secretary to the Central Government.

  • The authorized officer shall have the authority to request that the publisher delete, block, or modify material, as well as to request that information be blocked in the event of an ’emergency.’

The Ministry will form an Inter-Departmental Committee, which will include representatives from several ministries as well as domain experts.

  • The Authorized Officer will lead the committee, which will hear and investigate complaints or grievances and make recommendations to the MIB.

The list of suggestions includes ‘warning, censuring, admonishing, or reprimanding’ entities, as well as seeking an apology or issuing a warning or disclaimer. If the Committee determines that action to ban content is required under Section 69A of the IT Act (Power to give directions for blocking public access to any information through any computer resource), it may make recommendations to the MIB.

The Oversight Mechanism will form an Inter-Departmental Committee to hear grievances, will send grievances to the said committee, and will provide publishers with guidelines, advisories, and directives. The Inter-Departmental Committee is responsible for hearing grievances received from Level I or Level II, as well as complaints submitted to it by the MIB.

Conclusion

Publishers’ Grievance Redressal Procedure: The three-tier grievance redressal mechanism empowers MIB (Ministry of Information and Broadcasting ) to issue orders, directions, advice, and other directives to publishers.

It also designates the Inter-Departmental Committee as the final adjudicatory authority for Level I and Level II complaints. While attempts to create a uniform self-regulatory mechanism for OTT content failed, the current method, as laid forth in the guidelines, is hampered by inconsistencies.

Giving the MIB the power to select what content is aired and what content is censored, as well as extending that control to news content, will restrict the right to freedom of speech and expression.

The argument that the limits that apply to televised television and films should equally apply to online content is frequently used to justify the control of online content. The MIB has the jurisdiction to give recommendations and advisories to publications in addition to referring issues to the Inter-Departmental Committee it has established.

The Inter-Departmental Committee can also suggest to the MIB that an entity be warned, censured, admonished, or reprimanded. This establishes a hazardous precedent in which freedom of speech, expression, and the press, as well as the right to dissent, will all be subject to the government’s or its agencies’ whims.

The Indian news station NDTV India was temporarily banned by the Indian government in November 2016. While the government said it was a violation of national security regulations, the Editors Guild of India called it an infringement of press freedom. More examples of news items being restricted could arise as a result of the existing procedure for redressing issues, posing a threat to free speech.

References
  1. Information Technology Act, 2021
  2. www.jsalaw.com
  3. pgportal.gov.in
  4. www.mondaq.com
  5. www.hindustantimes.com
  6. https://prsindia.org/
  7. https://thewire.in/
  8. https://economictimes.indiatimes.com
  9. https://www.scconline.com
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