Concerns Rise as Three New Laws Expand Government Authority
New Delhi, December 22, 2023 – In a move that has raised concerns among journalists, filmmakers, and digital content creators, the Union government has recently passed three legislations granting it extraordinary powers over journalism, entertainment, and the internet. Experts, speaking at a Digipub conference on December 20, emphasized the potential threat to free speech and media independence posed by these new laws.
Telecommunications Bill of 2023: Privacy and Surveillance Concerns
The Telecom Bill of 2023, recently passed by both the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, has ignited worries about privacy and surveillance. Advocate Apar Gupta expressed major concerns related to surveillance, interception, and internet shutdowns, particularly in regions like Jammu and Kashmir and Manipur. The bill grants the Union government the power to ask for messages to be disclosed in an “intelligible format,” potentially compromising the privacy rights of users on encrypted platforms like WhatsApp.
According to Gupta, the interception provisions in the new bill are more extensive than those in the 2022 version, and the search-and-seizure powers granted raise concerns about overreach. The bill allows officers authorized by the Union government to search and seize unauthorized telecom equipment, posing potential threats to freedom of expression.
Draft Broadcasting Services (Regulation) Bill of 2023: Censorship and Self-Censorship
The Broadcasting Services Regulation Bill of 2023 aims to regulate online content, including news, but has faced criticism for its broad and vague provisions. Ritu Kapur, CEO and co-founder of The Quint, pointed out the lack of clarity on what could lead to censorship or punishment. The provision for content evaluation committees (CECs) in the draft broadcasting bill has been described as challenging for news media to comply with.
Digital news content creator Meghnad S highlighted concerns about blurring lines between journalism regulations and content creators. The broad definition of “news and current affairs programs” in the Broadcasting Bill could subject online commentators, comedians, and even WhatsApp communities to the same restrictions proposed for traditional news media.
Digital Personal Data Protection Act of 2023: Anonymity and Selective Targeting
The third legislation, the Digital Personal Data Protection Act of 2023, raises concerns about the requirement for verifiable biometric-based identification for users of telecom services. Meghnad warned that this could jeopardize journalists’ ability to keep their sources anonymous, potentially chilling investigative reporting. Meena Kotwal, founder of The Mooknayak, expressed worry about the laws being used for selective targeting, allowing the government to determine what is right or wrong.
Media Industry Voices Unease
Journalist Anna M.M. Vetticad drew attention to growing self-censorship in the Hindi entertainment industry. Concerns were raised about scripts being scrutinized for potential government offense, impacting creative freedom. The provisions for content evaluation committees in the broadcasting bill were criticized for adding an additional layer of censorship.
Advocates and experts are calling for a careful review of the legislation to ensure it upholds democratic values, freedom of expression, and privacy rights. The implications of these laws on media independence and citizens’ right to information remain at the forefront of public discourse.
This article is based on insights provided by independent journalist Akshit Chawla, reporting from New Delhi.
Gangtokian Web Team, 22/12/23