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IT & Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on 66A, Media Regulator, Social Media

India’s IT & Law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, speaking at the Law Commission’s consultation on Media Law on Saturday, said that “As far as the legal architecture (of media regulation) is concerned, self regulation should be the mode. It’s not an off the cuff remark. It carries a lot of meaning.” His comments come in the wake of a TRAI recommendation for an a single regulatory authority for TV and print media, and rumors that the NDA government is planning to table the communications convergence bill, and create a super regulator for media. Details of the the TRAI recommendation here.

Notes from the ministers speech:

– On Section 66a of the IT Act, which has been used to arrest individuals for posting comments online: “There are concerns around section 66a of the IT act. I have given clear instructions that this be used only under extreme circumstances. 19.1(a) gives freedom of expression, but 19.2 gives reasonable restrictions. In the extreme event that a website has to be blamed for communal issues or national security issues, there is a committee and a final whetting by secretary. This should be very, very rare. We need to trust the innate maturity of our understanding that the people of India have this freedom.”

– On Social Media: “We are very proud of that (social media), how India is changing. When I learned that 70% of Google traffic outside US is from India, I’m very proud. I was travelling to India via Bangkok, they have a big Samudramanthan statue. I asked my PA to take a photo of mine. He posted it on facebook. I got 45000 comments, and 5 lakh people liked it. We installed a MyGov platform, where we seek the views of people. In a short fortnight, we got 3 lakh concrete suggestions. We asked them to design an e-greetings. The PM sent 35 lakh e-greetings. It’s a different india, and we’re proud of that. We’ve got no interest in curbing this great flowering of creativity.

– On right to privacy and sting operations: It is integral to article 21 (of the constitution). How to balance the freedom of press and the right of privacy? I would urge this exchange (the law commission) today to find a bridge. There’s something more about the independence of judiciary, and the right to free trial is equally important. At times, there might be an apprehension that the person might have the complaint that he’s not getting access to a free trial. Lastly is about sting operations: people say sting operations are important, good luck to them. If you destroy the reputation of a person based on a motivated campaign, how do you get around it?”

Note that Prasad did not mention other aspects related to privacy, such as collection of personal data and its storage, and mass surveillance by the Indian state.

– On Paid News: “The paid news phenomenon is sickening. Please correct it. I have great experience of the baneful effect of this. The best instance was of a particular state, where on the same day, in the same newspaper on the same page, but the BJP was winning and the Congress was winning from the same constituency. In fact, I have a message to convey to my friends in publishing: Indian voters have more mature, by now they’re not swayed by campaigns. A day before the campaign, and I’m conservative, and I brought mynumber to 230, others brought it to 245 plus. Then Arnab said that we’ve got a full majority on its own. The people decide. I will appeal to my friends in the media and its owners.”

– On maintaining the freedom of the press: “Individual freedom, media freedom and the independence of judiciary was under threat during emergency. Many of us were evolved in the movement. For us the freedom of the press is non-negotiable. Those who are in politics must respect the Right to Press Freedom, and their right to lampoon us. In case of the emergency, when Press friends were asked to bend, they crawled. That will not be allowed to happen. At last count, there are 75000 registered newspapers in India, and their total readership is more than 20 crores. We have nearly 600+ TV channels, and over 245 registered news channels. over 200 are active all day. I have been appearing on TV for the last 15 years. I have seen myself the maturing of Indian TV media.”

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