The news industry today stands at a vital crossroads. The worsening economic health of print journalism threatens its ability to credibly inform the public and act as an institutional check upon power. The environment of digital news, on the other hand, operates in a vacuum of regulation. The emergence of a post-truth paradigm in public communications and the widespread proliferation of misinformation are barriers to realizing the benefits of digital news distribution. This report is primarily concerned with ensuring that high-quality journalism can transition into the era of digital communications in a manner that aligns with the public good.
Research focus: We examine the digital transformation of the Indian news environment from a regulatory perspective. In doing so, two distinct questions are considered — first, the question of “News and the Internet’, which is an inquiry into how the print news industry has evolved in the Internet era; and, second, the question of “News on the Internet’, which is an analysis of the state of news on digital mediums, such as online websites, social media platforms and news aggregators. These questions structure our inquiry into an evolving phenomenon: the transformation of the news industry because of the growth of technology.
The print news industry is especially crucial to the processes of democratic accountability in the country. In addition to its historical role as an institutional check upon State machinery, the print news industry employs a substantial number of on-ground reporters and is critical to continued high-quality journalism. The importance of this cannot be understated in an environment of increasing misinformation, the spread of ‘fake news’ and the emergence of a post-truth paradigm in public communications.
Consequently, the interaction of the news and the Internet must be studied from a ground-up perspective by examining the evolution of the news industry in response to the Internet, and its evolution on the Internet. These are the two major parts of this report: “News and the Internet” and “News on the Internet”.
Objective of this enquiry: There are two outcomes towards which the recommendations of this report are geared:
(a) Sustaining credible print journalism
(b) Orienting digital news to the public good
1. Institutional reforms: The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting’s Department of Audio-Visual Promotion is a crucial node in channelling State support to newspapers in the form of advertisements. The department must be provided institutional autonomy from bureaucratic control, and measures to bring about transparency and accountability should be introduced. This would channel State support to newspapers in an equitable and transparent manner.
2. Checking the dominance of online advertising platforms: The advertisement-revenue model for digital news may be displaying indications of market failure. To orient the market for digital news towards the public good, the role and practices of online advertising platforms must be systematically studied by a specialized authority. An investigation by the Competition Commission of India into the dominance of online advertising platforms could be a starting point.
3. Enacting comprehensive light-touch measures to address misinformation: The entire chain of misinformation needs to be addressed in order to effectively tackle the crisis of misinformation. The report suggests a range of legislative, co-regulatory and voluntary measures, which provide an integrated framework to prevent the spread of misinformation and enhance reader literacy.
4. Imposing appropriate responsibilities on digital news entities: The legal vacuum for digital news needs to be filled in a manner which is sensitive to the nuances of online discourse. The report recommends granting limited powers to the Press Council of India in conjunction with a voluntary registration procedure and the development of a brief, accessible code of conduct as a mechanism for the imposition of editorial responsibility. The role of online platforms in the distribution of news should be addressed through targeted interventions based on the design aspects of such platforms.
A report by the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy