TOP SECRET: MIB furnishes list of digital news media publishers and OTT platforms that submitted their details under IT Rules, 2021

In response to a CIC order in a Second Appeal filed by IFF, MIB furnished a list of 3,101 digital news media publishers and 57 OTT platforms that submitted their details to MIB.

17 May, 2023
5 min read

tl;dr

IFF filed RTI applications to the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (MIB) seeking information on notices sent to news media publishers under Rule 18 of the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 (IT Rules, 2021). MIB initially disclosed that 2100 publishers had provided their details under Rule 18 of the IT Rules, 2021, however, they refused to share any further information, including the number of notices issued or the legal basis for such notices. This is despite a stay on Rules 9(1) & 9(3) of the IT Rules, 2021 by the Madras and Bombay HCs.

Even after filing a first appeal, the MIB refused to provide the list of publishers, claiming a "fiduciary relationship" with the publishers. Dissatisfied with this response, IFF approached the Central Information Commission (CIC), where the Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) of the MIB disclosed that over 2,800 publishers had submitted their details to the MIB. The CIC found MIB's reliance on the fiduciary relationship exemption to be incorrect and directed the CPIO, MIB to provide the list of publishers. In response to the CIC order, MIB furnished a list of 3,101 digital news media publishers and 57 OTT platforms that submitted their details to MIB.

Why should you care

MIB issued notices to news publishers under the IT Rules, 2021 even though relevant provisions of the IT Rules, 2021, have been suspended by the Bombay and Madras HCs. The Bombay and Madras HCs stayed the operation of the relevant provisions after observing that the IT Rules, 2021, had the potential to threaten the independence of the press, i.e. the fourth pillar of democracy. Although Rule 18, which allows the MIB to request this information, has itself not been suspended, the Rules outlining the 3-tier regulatory mechanism and the Code of Ethics have been stayed. A holistic reading of Part III of the IT Rules, 2021 indicates that the purpose of collecting information under Rule 18 is to enable the MIB to identify news publishers and thereby regulate them under the IT Rules, 2021.

Background

Part III of the IT Rules, 2021 regulates digital media by laying down a Code of Ethics and a 3-tier grievance redressal mechanism with the MIB. The Code of Ethics regulates the type of content that can be published, as well as how it should be classified and displayed. The 3-tier grievance redressal mechanism, on the other hand, puts an officer of MIB on the top tier of regulation who can impose sanctions for any violations of the Code, including directing for removal of news articles. Rule 18 of Part III of the Rules requires publishers to provide information about their entities in a prescribed format.

In 2021 itself, the Bombay and Madras High Courts stayed the operation of Rules 9(1) and 9(3) due to concerns that the IT Rules, 2021 threatened the independence of the press. Despite this, it has come to our attention that digital news media publishers have received notices under Rule 18 from the MIB requesting information about their entities.

On January 3, 2022, we submitted an RTI application to the MIB in order to:

  1. confirm whether this was true;
  2. understand whether MIB was legally empowered to issue such notices;
  3. seek information on the total number/names of publishers to whom the notices were sent and who furnished information pursuant to the notices.

The MIB responded to our RTI application on January 14, 2022, confirming that it had indeed sent notices to publishers on May 26, 2021, and thereafter issued a reminder on September 9, 2021. These notices requested publishers to furnish information in a specific format, as mandated by Rule 18. According to the MIB, more than 2100 publishers had responded by providing the requested information. The MIB initially did not disclose the legal basis for issuing the notices following the stay order, nor did it provide the list of publishers who had received the notices. Additionally, the MIB did not reveal the number of notices sent, only the number of responses received.

Upon filing an appeal, the appellate authority at the MIB asserted that while the notices were issued under Rule 18, which necessitates publishers to provide their details, the information provided by the publishers was considered "voluntary." The MIB disclosed that 2,100 publishers had submitted their details.

In their response dated February 3, 2022, the MIB further contended that they were unable to disclose the identities of publishers who had submitted the requested details, citing a "fiduciary capacity" under which the information had been provided to the MIB. The MIB maintained that the information had been furnished by 2100 publishers on a "voluntary basis" and in a "fiduciary capacity". However, it is important to note that the MIB had issued a notice on May 26, 2021, followed by reminders on June 1, 2021, and September 9, 2021, explicitly seeking information from the publishers. None of these notices indicated that the information sought was "voluntary". Dissatisfied with this response, we filed a Second Appeal with the Central Information Commission (CIC) on May 6, 2022.

Hearing at the CIC

The CIC heard our Second Appeal on March 2, 2023, and held that the invocation of the fiduciary capacity under Section 8(1)(e) of the RTI Act by the CPIO was “grossly misplaced”. Although the CPIO disclosed the number of publishers, the list of publishers “appears to have been erroneously denied by the FAA as being held in a fiduciary capacity by assuming that the Appellant sought for ‘details of the entities’ submitted by the publishers, when in fact she merely asked for a list of the publishers”.

The CPIO submitted that as of February 24, 2023, “over 2800” publishers had furnished information to the MIB and agreed to provide a list of existing publishers. The CIC directed the CPIO to provide the available list of publishers to IFF within 15 days.

MIB furnishes a list of 3,101 digital news media publishers and 57 OTT platforms

In response to CIC’s order, the MIB has furnished a list of 3,101 digital news media publishers and 57 OTT platforms.  We are indeed grateful to the MIB for their disclosure of this information, as it plays a crucial role in fostering and promoting greater transparency and accountability.

Important Documents

  1. List of digital news media furnished by MIB in response to CIC’s decision in Anushka Jain v. CPIO, MIB CIC/MOIAB/A/2022/625638 dated 02.03.2023(link)
  2. List of OTT platforms furnished by MIB in response to  CIC’s decision in Anushka Jain v. CPIO, MIB CIC/MOIAB/A/2022/625638 dated 02.03.2023 (link)
  3. CIC’s decision in Anushka Jain v. CPIO, MIB CIC/MOIAB/A/2022/625638 dated 02.03.2023 (link)
  4. Second Appeal filed by IFF dated 06.05.2022 (link)
  5. FAA order dated 23.02.2022 (link)
  6. First Appeal filed by IFF dated 25.01.2022 (link)RTI application filed before MIB dated 20.10.2021 (link)
    Previous IFF Blog Post titled “CIC directs MIB to provide the list of news publishers who have submitted their details under the IT Rules, 2021” (link)

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