India to announce new rules for online & social media today

The Indian government is all set to announce new rules that govern online and social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Hotstar and Amazon Prime today, according to a report by financial news channel ET Now.

The IT and Information & Broadcasting ministries will hold a combined press conference at 2 PM today to announce the new rules, the channel said.


According to sources, the new rules will require social media platforms to get an undertaking from the users that they will not post anything that “knowingly and intentionally communicates any information which is patently false or misleading in nature but may reasonably be perceived as a fact”.

The new rules also require them to include provisions against posting of any material that “threatens the unity, integrity, defence, security or Sovereignty of India, friendly relations with foreign States, or public order, or causes incitement to the commission of any cognizable offence or prevents investigation of any offence or is insulting any foreign states”.

They will also have to put in a clause against uploading information that “is patently false and untrue, and is written or published in any form, with the intent to mislead or harass a person, entity or agency for financial gain or to cause any injury to any person”.


The new rules brings online news under the norms of journalistic conduct of the Press Council of India under the Press Council Act, 1978 and the programme code under section 5 of the Cable Television Networks
regulation) Act, 1995.


Online video platforms, such as Hotstar, Prime Video and MX Player, should “take into consideration India’s multi-racial and multi-religious context and exercise due caution and discretion when featuring the activities, beliefs, practices, or views of any racial or religious group” according to the new rules.

The new rules also call for a five-fold classification of video content.

Online curated content which is suitable for children as well as people of all ages shall be classified as “U” rating; that which is suitable for persons aged 7 years and above, and can be viewed by a person under the age of 7 years with parental guidance, shall be classified as “U/A 7+”, that suitable for persons aged 13 years and above, and can be viewed by a person under the age of 13 years with parental guidance, shall be classified as “U/A 13+”.

Content which is suitable 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+” rating; and content which is restricted to adults shall be classified as “A” rating.

Adult nudity without any sexual context can be included for 16+ categories, while nudity with a sexual context can be included only for A content.

“The portrayal of overly sexualized behavior is a concern at the junior categories and such works will not qualify for upto U/A 16+ category. The classification of content in various categories from U/A to A shall depend upon the portrayal of non-explicit (implicit) to explicit depiction of sexual behavior.

“Work containing scenes that may offend human sensibilities on account of vulgarity, obscenity or depravity are likely to receive a higher classification, such as the A category,” the new rules said.

Apps must also take all efforts to restrict access to such content by a child through the implementation of appropriate access control measures.

The rules were supposed to be announced last week, but were delayed after social media companies complained about some of the provisions.

The new guidelines come just days after Twitter refused to block official handles of some media outlets, journalists and activists despite a direction by the government to do so.

They also come in the wake of repeated questions in India’s parliament by MPs concerned about the availability of sexually explicit content via various entertainment apps in India.

Many political leaders have also objected to content that is critical of their political parties or ideologies, and asked the government to put in place a mechanism to filter such content.

Most of India’s traditional broadcasters and content production houses have entered the online app business over the last two years, and create regular web series for consumption on mobile phones and smart TVs.

Given that these web series are not meant for broadcast, but are consumed by individuals on their devices according to their discretion, the rules meant broadcast content have not been applied to such web series, short films etc..

Besides such big companies and production houses, hundreds of thousands of individuals in India also create short films, prank videos and other such content and post these on their social media pages, such as those on Facebook and Youtube.

The rise of ‘online content’ and cheap access to data connectivity has led to a change in consumption habits among Indians, with a large number of people now turning to mobile phones and smart TVs for their entertainment.

At the same time, the government has found itself without any obvious levers or legal mechanism to control such content, partly because of the absence of a legal framework and partly because of the distributed nature of content production.