Content

  1. New rules for social media, OTT platforms
  2. ‘Lateral entry’ into bureaucracy: reason, process, and controversy

Editorial: New rules for social media, OTT platforms

Context:

  1. On Thursday, in a long-anticipated move, the government notified guidelines that seek to provide a grievance redressal mechanism for users of digital platforms of all kinds — social media sites, messaging apps, over-the-top (OTT) streaming services, and digital news publishers.

Relevance:

  • GS Paper 3: Role of media and social-networking sites in internal security challenges; Internal security challenges through communication networks.

Mains Questions:

  1. Why has the government announced new guidelines to regulate digital content and what are the dos and don’ts? 15 Marks

Dimensions of the Article:

  • what do the new rules require digital platforms to do?
  • What is the context in which these rules have been framed?
  • What has changed from earlier?
  • Why are the rules being criticised?

what do the new rules require digital platforms to do?

Although there is no single set of rules that uniformly applies to the different kinds of digital platforms, the broad themes of the guidelines revolve around grievance redressal, compliance with the law, and adherence to the media code.

Grievance Redressal Mechanism:

  • Social media platforms like Google or Facebook, or intermediaries, for instance, will now have to appoint a grievance officer to deal with users’ complaints.
  • Appointment of Chief Compliance Officer: There are additional requirements on ‘significant’ social media intermediaries — meaning the platforms whose registered users in India are above the threshold notified by the government. Such intermediaries have to appoint a ‘Chief Compliance Officer’, who will have to ensure that the rules are followed;
    • the officer “shall be liable in any proceedings relating to any relevant third-party information, data or communication link made available or hosted by that intermediary”.
    • The intermediaries will also have to appoint a nodal contact person for “24×7 coordination with law enforcement agencies”.

Compliance with the law:

  • The other key requirement is that such a social media intermediary would have to “enable the identification of the first originator of the information on its computer resource” as may be required by a judicial order.
  • In other words, a problematic message, that is considered “an offence related to
    • the sovereignty and integrity of India,
    • the security of the State,
    • friendly relations with foreign states,
    • public order,
    • of incitement to an offence relating to the above or in relation with rape, sexually explicit material or child sexual abuse material”,
    • will have to be traced to its initiator on messaging applications like WhatsApp and Signal.

Adherence to the media code.

  • For digital publishers of news and current affairs as well as video streaming services, an identical three-tier structure for grievance redressal has been mandated. This structure will look into grievances in relation to a Code of Ethics, which is listed in the appendix to the rules.
  • Among other things, the Code of Ethics includes the ‘Norms of Journalistic Conduct’ as prescribed by the Press Council of India, as also content that shall not be published — “content which is prohibited under any law for the time being in force shall not be published or transmitted”, and the Programme Code under the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995.
  • The guidelines also require streaming services to classify content based on its nature and type. So, for instance, content “for persons aged 16 years and above, and can be viewed by a person under the age of 16 years with parental guidance shall be classified as U/A 16+”.

What is the context in which these rules have been framed?

  • The question of stricter regulation of digital media has come up unceasingly in different forms and forums over the last few years. The issue came up last year when the Supreme Court was hearing a case involving Sudarshan TV. In the course of the case, it asked the government for suggestions to improve the self-regulatory mechanism for electronic media. The government, in its affidavit, highlighted the need to regulate web-based media.
  • There has also been a face-off between the government and Twitter in recent weeks over the social media platform’s non-compliance with its order to block several hashtags and handles of journalists, activists and politicians in the backdrop of the ongoing farmers’ protests. Twitter eventually complied, though not fully.
  • Questions about how social media platforms can be made accountable for the spread of fake news and pornographic content have been raised in Parliament and by the Supreme Court in recent years, something that has been highlighted by the government in its release as well.

What has changed from earlier?

  • The scope of regulation of the digital space has been expanded. The new guidelines not only replace the Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines) Rules, 2011, but go a step further. They also regulate digital news publishers and streaming services, which was not the case earlier. The 2011 rules were a narrower set of guidelines for intermediaries.
  • Under Section 79 of the Information Technology Act, the intermediaries are not liable for user-generated content, provided they adhere to the rules — “an intermediary shall not be liable for any third-party information, data, or communication link made available or hosted by him,” it states. These rules have been tightened now.

Why are the rules being criticised?

  • For digital news media, these guidelines will subject it to governmental regulation in a way. The three-tier structure of regulation will entail oversight by a government committee at the highest level.
  • Any grievance that does not get satisfactorily solved at the self-regulatory levels will get escalated to the government panel.
  • The Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF), a digital liberties organisation, refers to this as “excessive governmental control over digital news and OTT content”.
  • The other rule that has been criticised by the IFF is the requirement of traceability of the originator of a problematic message. The news guidelines do suggest that this will not be required “where other less intrusive means are effective in identifying the originator of the information”.

Editorial: ‘Lateral entry’ into bureaucracy: reason, process, and controversy

Context:

  • Earlier this month, the UPSC issued an advertisement seeking applications for three posts of Joint Secretary and 27 of Director in central government Departments. These individuals would make a “lateral entry” into the government secretariat. What does this mean?

Relevance:

GS Paper 2: Role of civil service in democracy

Mains Questions:

  1. What is lateral entry? Discuss the pros and cons of lateral entry. 15 Marks

Dimensions of the Article:

  • What is ‘lateral entry’ into government?
  • Need of Lateral Entry
  • Challenges faced after Lateral Entry
  • Way Forward

What is ‘lateral entry’ into government?

  • NITI Aayog, in its three-year Action Agenda, and the Sectoral Group of Secretaries (SGoS) on Governance in its report submitted in February 2017, recommended the induction of personnel at middle and senior management levels in the central government.
  • These ‘lateral entrants’ would be part of the central secretariat which in the normal course has only career bureaucrats from the All India Services/ Central Civil Services.
  • A Joint Secretary, appointed by the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC), has the third highest rank (after Secretary and Additional Secretary) in a Department, and functions as administrative head of a wing in the Department. Directors are a rank below that of Joint Secretary.

Need of Lateral Entry

  • Bring new dimensions and fresh talent in Policy Making– It is essential to have people with specialized skills and domain expertise in important positions as policy making is becoming complex in nature.
    • The IAS officers see the government only from within, lateral entry would enable government to understand the impact of its policies on stakeholders — the private sector, the non-government sector and the larger public.
    • First ARC had pointed out the need for specialization as far back as in 1965. The Surinder Nath Committee and the Hota Committee followed suit in 2003 and 2004, respectively, as did the second ARC.
  • Increase in efficiency and governance:
    • Career progression in the IAS is almost automatic which could put officers in comfort zone. Lateral entrants could also induce competition within the system.
    • NITI Aayog, in its Three-Year Action Agenda for 2017-2020 had said that sector specialists be inducted into the system through lateral entry as that would “bring competition to the established career bureaucracy”. \
  • Increasing complexity in governance- requires specialists and domain expertise, due to emergence of new issues like globalisation, digitalisation of governance, financial frauds, cybercrime, organized crime, terrorism, climate-change among others.
  • Fill the vacancy gap of officers: According to a report by Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions there is a shortage of nearly 1,500 IAS officers in the country. The Baswan Committee (2016) had also supported lateral entry considering the shortage of officers.
  • Will help widen the talent pool for appointment– Recruitment of IAS officers at very young age makes it difficult to test potential administrative and judgment capabilities. Some who are potentially good administrators fail to make it, and some who do make it, fall short of the requirements.

Challenges faced after Lateral Entry

  • Scope of utility– i.e. how far the government can leverage the expertise of entrants. Much will depend on how far the political executive is willing to facilitate the functioning of these external experts and whether an enabling environment is created for utilizing their full potential.
  • Difficult to ensure responsibility and accountability- for the decisions taken by the private people during their service, especially given the short tenures of 3 to 5 years.
  • Lack of long-term stakes: The advantage with the current civil service is that policy makers have longterm interests in government.
  • Lack of field experience– Officers who will join might score on domain knowledge, but they may fall short on the experience of working in the “field”.
  • May face resistance from the Bureaucracyo Lack of cooperation- as existing officials might resist functioning with outsiders and inevitable tensions between generalists and specialists may surface.
    • Difficulty in adjusting to the bureaucratic work culture- including manners of addressing each other, speed of working, knowledge of rules, punctuality among others.
    • May demotivate them the existing officials– as they won’t have reasonable assurance of reaching top-level managerial positions from now on. By suggesting a contract-based system for positions of joint secretary and above, the signal would be sent out that only mid-career positions would be within reach in about 15-18 years of service and there would be considerable uncertainty about career progression thereafter.
  • Issue of Reservation- It is unclear whether there would be reservation for recruitment through Lateral Entry or not.

Way Forward

  • Need to learn from earlier experiences: The past experience of inducting private-sector managers to run public-sector enterprises has not been particularly satisfactory. For e.g. Air India, Indian Airlines etc.
  • Move towards longer tenures of lateral entrants– to allow them sufficient time to settle, learn and implement their approach, blueprint for work.
  • Various reforms apart from institutionalised lateral entry are the need of the moment such as:
    • Set up public administration universities for aspiring and serving civil servants: It can create a large pool of aspiring civil servants as well as enable serving bureaucrats to attain deep knowledge of the country’s political economy, increased domain expertise and improved managerial skills.
  • Deputation to Private Sector– A Parliamentary panel has recommended deputation of IAS and IPS officers in private sector to bring in domain expertise and competition.
  • Institutionalize goal setting and tracking for each department- Each Ministry and government agency should set outcome-based goals with a clear timeline.
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