NEW DELHI: More than 100 journalists, using the online media space as a platform to express their voice and stand wrote to Information & Broadcasting Minister Smriti Irani on Tuesday to bring forth their concerns over the ministry’s proposal to extend traditional broadcasting rules and restrictions to the Internet.
In their letter, the media professionals said that implementing means such as licensing and content regulation, to the internet, could have a drastic impact on a medium that has helped the media and information landscape to become more open, accomodative and democratic across the world.
The journalists include both veterans of the industry like Raghav Bahl, MK Venu, Madhu Trehan, Nalini Singh, Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, Shivam Vij, Sanjay Pugalia, Aniruddha Bahal and Raman Kirpal, as well as younger generation media entrepreneurs like Seema Mustafa (The Citizen), Ritu Kapur (The Quint), Tanmay Bhat (All India Bakchod) and Bharat Nayak (The Logical Indian).
Dhanya Rajendran, the editor-in-chief of The News Minute was also part of the list, along with Nikhil Pahwa from Medianama and Naresh Fernandes from Scroll.in.
“Internet based media, by its very nature, promotes broader democratic values globally and cannot be dealt with in the way national governments try to regulate or control traditional media,” said MK Venu, Founding Editor at The Wire.
“Internet based media and global media aggregators like Facebook, Google have changed the content and distribution landscape in ways that national governments cannot easily control. Nor should they try to. It is a free democratic space and must remain as such,” he added.
Journalist Madhu Trehan, the co-founder of NewsLaundry, warned of the far-reaching impact that interfering with the citizens’ freedom of expression, online or offline, can have.
“Regulating the Internet is a tricky thing. Its impact is enormous and far reaching. The proposal to regulate (and its need at all) must be a consultative process in the most open and transparent way,” she said.
“The Internet is the most important invention since the printing press, with a bigger impact than the press. To regulate the printing press would mean strangling thousands and millions of books down the ages that have transformed the world. That is the impact we are looking at. The Internet is the printing press of the digital age. A proposal for its regulation must be debated threadbare before any action,” she added.
Seema Mustafa, founder editor of The Citizen, a news and current affairs website, warned that chances of ‘online content regulation’ being used for suppression of opinions critical of the government remain very high.
“The attempt to control the internet comes from classic insecurity associated with governments fearful of dissent,” she said.
“The essentially bureaucratic composition of the committee set up by Centre is an indication of the direction the so-called regulation mechanism can be expected to take. People all over the world have opposed and stopped such attempts by governments to control space that has become increasingly valuable for individuals and increasingly for independent media,” she added.
Raghav Bahl, founder of Network18 and Quintillion Media, urged the government to look at the approach taken by other democracies in dealing with issues of online content.
“Any hasty action by the government will likely result in overreach,” he said.
“Therefore, we believe that the starting point for the government should be to study the global best practices for online content regulation. Many advanced democracies have already debated this and come up with good frameworks that ensure free speech and transparent regulation. No need to reinvent the wheel,” he added.
This development came after news broke that the government had set up a committee to come up with a regulatory structure for online media “on the lines applicable to print and electronic media”.
Over 100 journalists and professionals, including those from dozens of online organizations, signed the petition.
A website has also been set up to allow ordinary citizens to oppose the move to regulate online content.
With Inputs from : NewsMinute.com