Chief Justice of India NV Ramana was on hand when he observed that the common connotations of content posted by social media and YouTube channels all work to show India in a bad light, not to mention that some of these offenders consider themselves “patriotic”. CJI correctly noted that these entities have no responsibility and can freely smear people and institutions they don’t like and circulate content without factual verification or advice. These sightings came upon hearing Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind and others protesting “biased” reporting on Tablighi Jamaat at the start of the spread of Covid in India.
CJI’s accompanying observations on the print media, which he says, again rightly, does responsible reporting and has built-in corrective mechanisms, highlight a great dichotomy. News published in newspapers is compiled by professional journalists and is printed after several levels of fact-checking and editorial control. It doesn’t make newspapers perfect. But this ensures that reputable mastheads are not platforms for bogus, libelous, or hateful content. In contrast, social media has become a cesspool of all of this and worse, because it doesn’t use as many editorial networks as the ocean of posts requires. Here it is also important to distinguish social media from digital news portals, which include digital publications from print media. The latter are subject to the same due diligence as newspapers and face the same regulatory regime.
Oddly and indefensibly, the GoI’s purported response to social media excesses, IT (Intermediary Guidelines) Rules 2021, does not quite make this distinction between true news organizations in the digital space and wild media wasteland. social and hate factories on the fly. It’s no surprise that IT rules face severe legal challenges in high courts. GoI should listen to what CJI said: content is dangerous when it promotes lies and hate. This means more rigorous scrutiny of social media companies and letting digital media do its job.
This article was published as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.
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