Times of India’s Edit Page team comprises senior journalists with wide-ranging interests who debate and opine on the news and issues of the day.
Chief Justice of India NV Ramana was spot on when he observed that the communal overtones of content published by social media and YouTube channels all work to show India in a poor light, never mind that some of these offenders consider themselves ‘patriotic’. CJI rightly noted these entities have no accountability and could freely besmirch individuals and institutions they disliked and were circulating content without verification or paying any notice to facts. These observations came while hearing Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind and others protesting ‘biased’ reporting on Tablighi Jamaat in the early part of India’s Covid spread.
CJI’s accompanying observations on the print media, which he said, again rightly, does responsible reporting and has in-built corrective mechanisms, highlight a great dichotomy. News published in newspapers is gathered by professional journalists and gets to print after several levels of fact-checking and editorial gatekeeping. This doesn’t make newspapers perfect. But it ensures reputed mastheads are not platforms for fake or defamatory or hateful content. In contrast, social media has become a cesspool of all these and worse because it doesn’t employ as many editorial nets as the ocean of posts require. Here, it is also important to distinguish social media from digital news portals, which include digital publications of the print media. The latter go through the same due diligence as newspapers and face the same regulatory regime.
Strangely and indefensibly, GoI’s purported response to social media excesses, IT (Intermediary Guidelines) Rules 2021, doesn’t quite make this distinction between genuine news outlets in the digital space and wild wastelands of social media and fly-by-night hate factories. Not surprisingly, IT rules are facing stiff legal challenges in high courts. GoI should listen to what CJI said: Content is dangerous when it promotes falsehood and hate. That means more severe scrutiny of social media companies and letting digital news outlets do their job.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.