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A retired judge appointed from a panel prepared by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting will head the Self-Regulatory Body under the new IT Rules 2021.

A retired judge or an independent eminent person from a relevant field will be selected to head the independent self-regulatory body.

The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021 (“the rules”) were announced in the official gazette on 25 February 2021.

The rules are divided into three parts. While Part I clarifies the definitions of various terms used throughout the rules, Part II and Part III deal with regulating intermediaries (including social media intermediaries) and the digital news media landscape respectively.

Part II of the rules are administered by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, but the claim stems from Part III of the rules that are administered by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (Ministry of I&B). Part III of the rules deals with due diligence obligations that are required to be fulfilled by publishers of news and current affairs content and online curated content.

The publishers are required to observe and adhere to the Code of Ethics laid down in the Appendix annexed to the rules. The rules envisage a three-tier structure for grievance redressal and ensuring observance of and adherence to the Code of Ethics. The three-tier structure encompasses the following: Level I- Self-Regulation by the publishers; Level II- Self-Regulation by the self-regulating bodies of the publishers; and Level III- Oversight mechanism by the Central Government.

The Self-Regulatory Body (“SRB”) is envisaged as an independent body constituted by publishers or their associations. It is pertinent to note that rule 12 sub-rule 2 deals with who can head an SRB. The rule explicitly mentions that the SRB shall be headed by a retired judge of the Supreme Court, a High Court, or an independent eminent person from the field of media, broadcasting, entertainment, child rights, human rights, or another relevant field. After it has been constituted, the SRB is then required to register itself with the Ministry of I&B. However, the rules mention that before the grant of registration to the SRB, the Ministry of I&B needs to “satisfy itself” that it has been constituted in accordance with the rules.

Therefore it is safe to say that while the publishers and their associations are free to decide who heads the Self-Regulatory Body (within the parameters of the rules), the Ministry of I&B will have discretionary powers to decide whether it is satisfied with how the SRB has been constituted.

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