The Indian government on Thursday released new rules to regulate social media companies, OTT streaming services, digital news outlets, among others in a bid to introduce a major change in legislation to assert more control over powerful Big Tech firms, and warned that ‘double standards of social media will not be acceptable’.
The government’s warning went out to all social media platforms operating in the country.
Addressing a press conference, Union Information Technology Ravi Shankar Prasad detailed some of the strict oversight mechanism for social media companies, including a robust grievance mechanism besides measures for speedy redressal.
Concerns have been raised about rampant abuse of social media platforms, spread of fake news, said Ravi Shankar Prasad, adding that social media intermediaries have to appoint grievance officer, who shall registered complaints in 24 hours.
Content involving nudity, morphed pictures of women have to be removed in 24 hours. A grievance redressal official must be resident in India and monthly compliance reports have to be filed by social media platforms, said Prasad.
Social media platforms on being asked by court or government will be required to disclose the first originator of the mischief information, he added.
Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting Prakash Javadekar Prakash Javadekar then spoke about the new rules concerning OTT platforms operating in the country.
Highlighting the misuse of social media in the country, Ravi Shankar Prasad said that the government wants social media platforms operating in the country to introduce a mechanism for better verification of users. Prasad said that the “significant social media” rules need to be implemented within three months.
“Social media platforms upon being asked either by a court order or a govt authority will be required to disclose the first originator of mischievous tweet or message as the case may be,” Prasad said.
“Double standards of social media will not be acceptable,” Ravi Shankar Prasad added during his speech.
Under the new Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, the government plans to mandate social media companies like Facebook and Twitter to erase contentious content as early as possible, but not later than 36 hours, after a government or legal order.
These companies must also provide information and help with investigations within 72 hours of a request from authorities, said the draft rules, a copy of which News18.com has reviewed. Further, if a post depicts an individual in any sexual act or conduct, then companies must disable or remove such content within a day of receiving a complaint, the rules added.
The latest draft rules – which would be legally enforceable – have been released weeks after the government’s dispute with Twitter after the social media giant ignored orders to remove content over farmers’ protests. The new guidelines will supercede the 2011 rules, and government sources said that since the changes are only in the rules, and not the IT Act, Parliament intervention will not be required.
For players like WhatsApp, which are end-to-end encrypted, this could mean they will be forced to break encryption in India in order to comply.
Guidelines for OTT platforms soon
The draft proposal also requires companies to appoint a chief compliance officer, another executive for coordinating on law enforcement, and a “grievance redressal officer” within 3 months from the date of publication of these rules. All must be resident Indian citizens.
A copy of the draft rules, set to be released by IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad and Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar, has been put out by the Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF).
The oversight mechanism will include a committee with representatives from the ministries of Defence, External Affairs, Home, I&B, Law, IT and Women and Child Development. This committee will have “suo motu powers” to call hearings on complaints of violation of the Code of Ethics if it wants. The committee can warn, censuring, admonish or reprimand violators, seek an apology besides other actions.
The rules would also apply across other digital and online media, the draft proposal said. “A publisher shall take into consideration India’s multi-racial and multi-religious context and exercise due caution and discretion when featuring the activities, beliefs, practices, or views of any racial or religious group,” the draft rules said.
While the new rules for social media and other digital platforms will be governed by the IT Ministry, the Information and Broadcasting Ministry will be the governing body for rules concerning streaming platforms. Referring to films and other entertainment, including web-based serials, the draft rules called for a “classification rating” to describe content and advise discretion.
The rules would also force streaming services like Netflix and Prime Video, who objected to an independent appellate body for hearing streaming complaints, to submit to the authority of an appeals body headed by a retired high court or Supreme Court justice. If this body believes that the content violates the law, it would be empowered to send the content to a government-controlled committee for blocking orders to be issued.
Streaming platforms such as Netflix and Amazon Prime have faced complaints in India for obscenity. Police in Uttar Pradesh questioned an Amazon executive for nearly four hours on Tuesday over allegations that a political drama, “Tandav”, hurt religious sentiments and caused public anger.
The Indian Express reported that the rules also made a distinction between a significant social media intermediary and a regular social media intermediary. The government is yet to define the user size to determine who will constitute as a significant social media intermediary.
The government says it is empowering the users of social media and other intermediaries. It wants companies to have a chief compliance officer for significant social media companies as well. The rules call for social media companies to publish a monthly compliance report as well.
‘First originator’ of a message
The rules also call for tracking of the ‘first originator’ of a message. The government says while it is not interested in the content, they are interested to know who started the ‘mischief’. It wants social media platforms to disclose the first originator of the mischievous tweet or message as the case maybe.
This will be required in matters related to security and sovereignty of India, public order, or with regard to rape or any other sexually explicit material.
OTT content platforms
The government has called for a grievance redressal system for OTT platforms and digital portals as well. The government is also asking OTT platforms to self regulate and wants a mechanism for addressing any grievances.
While films have a censor board, OTT platforms will require to self-classify their movies and content based on age. There has to be a mechanism of parental lock and ensuring compliance with the same. Platforms like Netflix already have an option for parental lock.
“Social media is welcome to do business in India. They have done exceedingly well. They have got a good number of users. They have also empowered Indians. We commend this,” Prasad stated.
The 30-page document, titled Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, guidelines define social media companies, suggest a three-tier mechanism for regulation of all online media, define the process for tracing the first originator, and confer blocking powers to an inter-ministerial committee.
With respect to regulation of news media, several concerns abound. The purview of the Information Technology Act, 2000 does not extend to news media, and so the guidelines do not have the legislative backing to regulate news media.
The draft contains a three-tier regulatory mechanism, according to a Hindustan Times report. The first tier of the regulatory mechanism is grievance redressal by the company itself; the second level involves a Press Council of India-like regulatory body that will be headed by a retired judge of a high court or the Supreme Court.
With inputs from News18, Indian Express, India Today, PTI and ANI.
Britney Spears calls recent documentaries about her ‘hypocritical’
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Pop singer Britney Spears spoke out on Tuesday about recent documentaries about her life and career, calling them “hypocritical” because they rehash her personal problems while criticizing the media for reporting them the first time.
Walt Disney Co’s FX network and The New York Times released “Framing Britney Spears” in February. The documentary examined the singer’s meteoric rise to fame as a teenager, the ensuing media scrutiny and her widely publicized breakdown.And this month, the BBC released “The Battle for Britney: Fans, Cash and a Conservatorship” in Britain. It will debut in the United States and Canada starting May 11 via the BBC Select streaming service.
In an Instagram post, Spears did not name either documentary but said “so many documentaries about me this year with other people’s takes on my life.”
“These documentaries are so hypocritical … they criticize the media and then do the same thing,” she added.
In March, Spears said she cried for two weeks after watching part of “Framing Britney Spears”.
The BBC said in a statement on Tuesday that its documentary “explores the complexities surrounding conservatorship with care and sensitivity.”
“It does not take sides and features a wide range of contributors,” the statement added.
A New York Times spokesperson declined to comment.
Spears, who shot to fame in 1998 with the hit “Baby One More Time,” is in a court battle seeking to replace her father as her conservator. He was appointed to the role in 2008 after she was hospitalized for psychiatric treatment.
Her fans have shown their support on social media under the hashtags #We’reSorryBritney and #FreeBritney. Spears is scheduled to speak to a Los Angeles court in June.
In her Instagram post, which included a video of herself dancing, Spears said that “although I’ve had some pretty tough times in my life … I’ve had waaaayyyy more amazing times in my life and unfortunately my friends … I think the world is more interested in the negative.”
(Reporting by Lisa Richwine; Editing by David Gregorio)
Grammy organizers change rules after allegations of corruption
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – The organizers of music’s Grammy Awards on Friday announced an end to the so-called “secret” committees that have led to allegations that the highest honors in the industry are open to rigging.
The Recording Academy said that nominations for the next Grammy Awards in January 2022 will be selected by all of its more than 11,000 voting members, instead of by committees of 15-30 industry experts whose names were not revealed.
The Academy was slammed last year when Canadian artist The Weeknd got zero Grammy nominations, even though his critically acclaimed album “After Hours” was one of the biggest sellers of 2020.
The Weeknd, in a Twitter post last November, said “The Grammys remain corrupt. You owe me, my fans and the industry transparency.”
The Recording Academy said in a statement on Friday that the changes were significant and were made “to ensure that the Grammy Awards rules and guidelines are transparent and equitable.”
Allegations that the Grammy nominations process is tainted were made in a legal complaint filed in early 2019 by the former chief executive of the Recording Academy, Deborah Dugan.
At the time, the Academy dismissed as “categorically false, misleading and wrong” Dugan’s claims that its members pushed artists they have relationships with. Dugan was later fired.
American pop star Halsey, also shut out of the 2021 Grammys, last year called the nominations process “elusive” and said she was “hoping for more transparency or reform.”
Former One Direction singer Zayn Malik called in March for an end to “secret committees.”
“I’m keeping the pressure on & fighting for transparency & inclusion. We need to make sure we are honoring and celebrating ‘creative excellence’ of ALL,” Malik tweeted hours ahead of the 2021 Grammy Awards ceremony.
The Recording Academy on Friday also said it was adding two new Grammy categories – for best global music performance, and best Latin urban music album – bringing to 86 the total number of Grammy Awards each year.
(Reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by David Gregorio)
Movie theaters face uncertain future
By Lisa Richwine
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Maryo Mogannam snuck into the Empire theater in San Francisco with his older cousins to watch “Animal House” when he was 14. He watched most of the James Bond movies at the historic art house and took his wife there on some of their first dates.
The cinema, which had been showing movies since the silent film era, served notice in February that it was permanently closing because of the impact of COVID-19. The marquee is now blank, and cardboard and paper cover the box office window.
“It’s kind of like losing a friend,” said Mogannam, now 57, who owns a retail shipping outlet near the theater, which had been renamed the CineArts at the Empire.
As vaccinated Americans emerge from their homes, they also may find their neighborhood theater is not there to greet them.
An eight-cinema chain in New England said it will not reopen. The same fate hit a Houston art house beloved by director Richard Linklater and, in a shock to Hollywood, more than 300 screens run by Los Angeles-based Pacific Theatres. That includes the Cinerama Dome, a landmark that hosted several red-carpet movie premieres.
Following a year of closures, theaters face deferred rent bills plus media companies’ focus on drawing customers to streaming services. Up to one-fourth of the roughly 40,000 screens in the United States could disappear in the next few years, Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter said.
The National Association of Theatre Owners rejects that estimate, spokesman Patrick Corcoran said, noting that similar dire warnings accompanying the advent of television and the switch to digital screens never came to pass.
Hollywood filmmakers want cinemas to thrive.
“It’s the only place where the art dominates,” said “Avatar” director James Cameron. “When you watch something on streaming, the other people in the room with you are welcome to interject, to pause to go to the bathroom, to text.”
At theaters, “we literally make a pact with ourselves to go and spend two to three hours in a focused enjoyment of the art.”
“For 300 people to laugh and cry at the same time, strangers, not just your family in your house, that’s a very powerful thing,” said Chloe Zhao, Oscar-nominated director of best picture nominee “Nomadland.”
At the Academy Awards on Sunday, the movie industry will “make a case for why cinema matters,” producer Stacey Sher said. While acknowledging the hardship of the pandemic, “we also have to fight for cinema and our love of it and the way it has gotten us through things,” she said.
About 58% of theaters have reopened in the United States and Canada, most restricted to 50% capacity or less. The biggest operators – AMC, Cinemark and Cineworld – make up roughly half the overall market.
Industry leaders project optimism, forecasting a big rebound after restrictions ease and studios unleash new blockbusters.
Coming attractions include a new Bond adventure, the ninth “Fast & Furious” film, a “Top Gun” sequel and several Marvel superhero movies.
“Avatar 2,” Cameron’s follow-up to the highest-grossing film of all time, is set to debut in December 2022. Some box office analysts predict 2022 ticket sales will hit a record.
Supporters point to late March release “Godzilla vs. Kong,” which brought in roughly $48.5 million at U.S. and Canadian box offices over its first five days, even though audiences could stream it on HBO Max.
“That was a big win for the entire industry,” said Rich Daughtridge, president and chief executive of Warehouse Cinemas in Frederick, Maryland.
But near- and long-term challenges loom, particularly for smaller cinemas.
Theaters are negotiating with landlords over back rent. A federal aid program was delayed due to technical problems.
Plus, media companies are bringing movies to homes sooner. Executives say streaming is their priority, pouring billions into programming made to watch in living rooms as they compete with Netflix Inc.
Most at risk are theaters with one or two screens, Wedbush Securities’ Pachter said. He said his best guess is between 5,000 and 10,000 screens could go permanently dark in coming years.
“I think we’ll see a gradual decline in the number of screens,” Pachter said, “just like we’ve seen a gradual decline in the number of mom-and-pop grocery stores and bookstores.”
(Reporting by Lisa Richwine; Additional reporting by Rollo Ross in Los Angeles, Alicia Powell in New York and Nathan Frandino in San Francisco; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)
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