PM Modi biggest victim of campaign based on falsehood, says Ravi Shankar Prasad


2021-03-13 00:48:04

NEW DELHI: Communications and IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has been in the thick of action, working on new rules on social and digital media as well as OTT platforms, tackling the challenge posed by Chinese apps and the security concerns around telecom equipment.
His ministry has also been the spearhead for an effort to wean manufacturers of smartphones away from China. In an interview to TOI, he outlines the government’s strategy in these crucial areas. Excerpts:
Do you think that new guidelines will help the government?
The issue is not of use of social media, the issue is of abuse and misuse of social media. The guidelines focus on the user of social media. Do I have a forum for resolution of grievances or not? It is between the platform and users, you must have a grievance redressal officer, compliance officer, reporting officer.
We, the government, are out of it — the government welcomes dissent, it welcomes criticism, including of the Prime Minister, ministers and government policies. Our government also appreciates the role of social media in empowering citizens.
But, we have to protect the rights of users and so we have imposed four obligations on them. First, monthly reporting of resolution of grievances. Second, in case of “significant” platforms, a mechanism for voluntary verification of users. Third, removal of content within 24 hours, which impinge on national security, have morphed images of women, revenge porn being shown by jilted lover, etc.
Last, if there is an issue concerning national security, sovereignty of India, projection of rape victim or defaming of women, and in some other defined categories, then you will have to disclose khurafaat kisne shuru ki (who started the mischief). We don’t wish to see the content. I have to be upholder of the freedom of an individual, but I also have to be concerned about the dignity of India’s women.

At some level, were some of the companies also turning into activists?
I don’t wish to comment on that. What we are asking is uniformity of yardstick. You support the police action in case of violence on the Capitol Hill in the US. We appreciate that. But when it comes to our pride, Red Fort, you have double standards, you stand with the aggressors. This double standard is simply unacceptable. You have to appreciate India’s democracy and that means India’s Constitution and the laws of India.
Some people believe that the government has become too sensitive. Is there a line that you draw when you say the government is open to criticism?
Over the last 20 years, my PM has been the biggest victim of consistent campaign against him, based on falsehood. Where do you draw a line? Should social media be allowed to become a platform to pander to terrorists or those who are trying to break the country, those who don’t respect the verdict of democracy?
There is a tendency of those who have repeatedly been rebuffed in the popular mandate to further their political objectives from the corridors of the Supreme Court and some through social media. It’s not fair.
WhatsApp has said that they are unable to break the encryption and is not sharing the original source of unlawful message…
Technology is changing so fast. Are we talking of rocket science? Moreover, I am not seeking to know the content, I only want to know the originator in case a post has become viral and is causing trouble.
Grounds on which you seek action from social media companies, such as national security and public order, are seen by many people as being too broad. Do you agree?
They are part of Article 19(2) of the Constitution. The Supreme Court has said that internet is integral to the right to free speech as provided in Article 19(1), therefore 19(2), with reasonable restrictions. They have been in place for over 70 years and there are several judgments on sovereignty and integrity of India.
We have only added dignity of women to it because it has become a challenge in the age of social media. And no, we are not saying something vague. We respect people’s right to speech, but they can’t be oblivious to Article 19(2), which talks of reasonable restrictions.
Don’t we risk turning into a police state on social media since one wrong hashtag can lead to stoppage of everything?
No, it’s not true. We only seek to stop a hashtag if it’s causing trouble, and not to bring down an account. Those propagating against India, through fictitious accounts and hashtags, must pay for it because we cannot ignore any threat to India’s security from terrorists.
What is the need to regulate OTT platforms?
There is a censor board for films but there is none for OTT platforms. All we are asking for is self-certification and self-regulation. When you have a self-regulatory mechanism for TV news, you run a scroll if there is something wrong. Doesn’t The Times of India follow the Press Council of India guidelines? Doesn’t Times Now follow self-regulation guidelines. So, how can you (the OTTs) be completely unbridled? For news media, all you have to do is to inform the I&B ministry.
Every day, you have a new channel coming up on YouTube. Our only expectation is that you need to inform who you are and where a channel is located. The government will only have a soft-touch oversight mechanism in relation to social media platforms as well as digital media and OTT platforms.
What is the government’s view on telecom network expansion and procurement from Chinese companies?
I don’t want to comment on any specific country. Our core concern is to have a robust, safe and secure Indian communication system. If Digital India has to succeed, it has to remain safe and secure.
The government has said that telecom equipment can only come from ‘trusted’ sources that have been approved by a designated authority. Can you elaborate?
The list of ‘trusted’ sources should come in June. We are going to look into a variety of factors that would include checking the antecedents of the supplier, to finding out trustworthiness of the organisation. Also, we want to understand the supplier’s capacity to ensure cyber security.
As far as the Chinese players are concerned, when their apps posed a problem, we exercised sovereign powers to keep them away. All I can say is that allow the system to work properly. All elements of trust will be factored in.



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