The article ‘Is there any Legal Requirement to Start a News Website in India?‘ is a descriptive analysis of the plethora of laws available in India for the emerging news website. The objective is to show ways to those who want to do their start-up in this field. The author pointed out various loopholes and also made a… Read More »

The article ‘Is there any Legal Requirement to Start a News Website in India?‘ is a descriptive analysis of the plethora of laws available in India for the emerging news website. The objective is to show ways to those who want to do their start-up in this field. The author pointed out various loopholes and also made a clear reflection on the effective laws of India which must be complete in statutes but still lacks an effective implementation in the modern time. There has been elaborate discussion on the ways in which news websites should be regulated. Indeed, the core emphasis is put on the importance of authentic news for the general masses.

Meaning of a news website

To begin with, first, it is important for us to know what actually news websites are. So, a news website is of course a website that is collective and diverse in nature and works as an access point to the news. A news website is a costly affair to run and includes people like editors, contributors, columnists, etc who are able to maintain the standards of pure journalism.

We find no proper definition of the term ‘news website’ in the Indian laws however the government brings it into the ambit of digital content, and furthermore, the government has defined digital content as-

“as content which can be transmitted over the internet or computer networks, and has added publisher of news and current affairs within the scope of digital media.” [1]

Relating it to the Supreme law of India, i.e. our Indian constitution, Article 19(1)(a) of the constitution protects the right of free speech and expression irrespective of the medium of communication. While the courts have interpreted this right in a broad manner, Article 19(2) permits reasonable restrictions to be placed on the right in view of public policy concerns[2]

Should news websites be regulated at all?

A website development that will serve news portal requirements will actually be the online presence of a newspaper, a magazine, or a channel that covers the local, national or global range. One can upload news and authors’ posts about politics, economics, culture, sports, and the environment and enjoy having visitors from all over the world. Now if we actually talk about regulating or controlling the above mentioned, if not regulated, there is no doubt a possibility of misuse of freedom of speech and expression as per one’s convenience which could lead to the destruction of peace and harmony in many aspects.

So we find that there is probably a need of regulating the online news to the extent it does not infringe the fundamental right of people which is the right to free speech and expression. The need for regulation also arises so that authentic and reliable information is being passed on to the citizens so they are saved from being misguided. That further leads us to deduce that a certain amount of reasonable restriction can be put and for that, comes into play the Registrar of Newspapers for India (RNI).

The RNI, extra prevalently viewed as the Office of the Registrar of the Newspapers for India is a statutory body of the Government of India. It comes under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting for the enlistment of the distributions, alongside papers and magazines, India. It transformed on 1st July 1956, on the exhortation of the First Press.

Commission in 1953 and through changing the Press and Registration of Books Act 1867. RNI regulates and video display units printing and book of newspapers essentially based absolutely on the Press and Registration of Books Act, 1867 and the Registration of Newspapers (Central) Rules, 1956.

From where does this question arise?

Why are we even addressing the topic of legal requirements to start a news website in India and why was no one talking about it earlier. While India is shifting from physical newspaper reading to online news that is just a touch away and readily available on their smartphones, citizens are at high risk of being fed with irrelevant and unauthentic affairs. Has the need arisen for a legal requirement to start a news portal after the Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 came into the picture.

There existed many laws before the passing of this new rule like The Press and Registration of Books Act, 1867 which regulates printing presses and newspapers and makes registration with an appointed Authority compulsory for all printing presses. On the other hand, there is the Press Council Act 1978 which is an Act to establish a Press Council for the purpose of preserving the freedom of the Press and of maintaining and improving the standards of newspapers and news agencies in India.

The Press (Objectionable Matters) Act, 1951 provides laws against the prints and publications that incite crimes and other objectionable actions.

Then again, the Newspaper (Price and Pages) Act, 1956 is an act that empowers the central government to regulate prices, the number of pages, and the size of the newspapers. What we can see in common in all the Acts is that none of them deals with the news in the digital format. However, to put your confusion in the bin, the Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, formed by the Information and Broadcasting Ministry comes to play an effective Role.

Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021

The 2021 Rules replaced the Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines) Rules, 2011 along with significantly broadening the area of intermediary oversight, as well as bringing online news content under its purview. The Code of Ethics under the Rules applies to distributors of digital media including news and current affairs, content suppliers, and OTT stages.

The 2021 Rules specify that news distributors in the computerized media should comply with norms of Journalistic Conduct and the Cable Television Networks Regulation Act, 1995. A distributor of information and current issues material, as well as a distributor of online arranged content, are expected to advise the Ministry of its substance’s subtleties, as well as give data and the necessary documentation to make easier communication and coordination. [3]

The draft Bill has no subtleties on the enrollment interaction and how it functions – these subtleties are only mentioned for the periodicals (which as referenced prior, must be printed).By and by, Section 18 of the draft RPP Bill says that

publishers of news on Digital Media shall register themselves with the Registrar of Newspapers of India in such manner and giving such particulars as may be prescribed.”

However, it is to be noted that neither the RPP Bill nor the I&B Ministry has provided any such guidelines or forms of registration that can solidify their statement that the digital media shall register themselves.

Further, Under Rule 10 of the Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 a grievance redressal mechanism has also been set up-

  • Level 1- Self-regulation by the Publisher: This level entails the grievance redressal mechanism established by the Publisher. Rule 11 provides that an applicable entity must appoint a Grievance Redressal Officer who must resolve the grievance received by it within 15 days. The said officer would also serve as a point of contact for complaints related to the Code of Ethics.
  • Level 2- Self Regulatory Mechanism: Rule 12 establishes one or more self-regulatory bodies consisting of publishers. Thus, this stage is self-regulation by the aforementioned bodies. These bodies must be registered with the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. This body will monitor the publisher’s compliance with the Code of Ethics, resolve complaints that have not been settled by the publisher within 15 days, and hear appeals lodged by complainants against the publisher’s decision.
  • Level 3- Oversight Mechanism: There is the formation of an Oversight Mechanism, which ensures adherence to the Code of Ethics by the publishers. This mechanism initiates an Inter-Departmental Committee for hearing grievances. The Authorized Officer will lead the committee, which will hear and investigate complaints or grievances received from Level I/ Level II or the ones made to MIB.[4]

Is there any legal requirement to start a news website in India?

Finally, answering the question most-awaited, we can say that there is no requirement to start a news website in India as such because the Registrar of Newspapers for India (RNI) has not made it compulsory to get your news website registered under them. Also, the new IT rules of 2021 have not given any specific norms or forms of registration that can solidify their statement of regulating digital news.

However, there lies certain responsibility on the shoulders of one who wants to run a news portal like providing the user with privacy policy, terms and conditions, and rules and regulations of the website, not publishing any content which is likely to harm the unity, integrity, or the sovereignty of the nation, providing authentic information and identifying its source, maintaining transparency and accuracy and eliminating baseless and distorted materials. One must adhere to all the related laws, specifically the provisions of the Indian Penal Code, Code of Criminal Procedure as well as Information Technology Law as and when applicable.

Conclusion

In this new age of India, we are aware of the rights and are also ready to take out swords in case it is infringed. However, we tend to turn our backs when it comes to being aware of our fundamental duties and our responsibilities as citizens. As citizens, it is our duty to also act as responsible netizens. The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 is a remarkable step in the digital arena to safeguard the rights of the general population at large and guarantee protection to all if it is more specific for the regulation of digital news portals.

The new principles intend to layout a self-administrative structure for online intermediaries, virtual entertainment locales, streaming features, and advanced media firms. It also mentions the three-step redressal structure. As it gives no specific regulation regarding legal requirements to start a news website in India, the responsibility lies with the creators and users to follow eliminate malafide intentions and actions.

It is rightly said by the Toomas Hendrik Ilves,

Fake news is cheap to produce. Genuine journalism is expensive.


References

[1] RNI Registration for Online News Portal in 2021, Available Here

[2] Vibhuti Kaushik, Brief note on the information technology, Available Here

[3] Vakasha Sachdev, Draft Press Registration bill: How would this change the law, Available Here

[4] Aparimita Basu, Media Laws: An Overview,
Available Here


Updated On 2022-04-16T07:18:36+05:30
Aayushi Tiwari

Aayushi Tiwari

A Law Student and a lifetime humanitarian from the historically rich state, Bihar. Avid reader, writes to bring a difference and a public speaker to enlighten others.

Next Story