Who is Right, Who is Wrong! The New IT Regulation On Media, Social Media
Edits | May 29, 2021
For once the law minister seems to be right, in action and in comments.
He is right in his view that the companies operating in India, originating in foreign land ought to be taxed and accountable in India. Where seemingly two applications are now pending with the quotes, one from WhatsApp, and the other from the Government of India against Twitter. In a plain reading of these applications, there is no judgement, which the Hon’ble High Court may make in these larger schemes of things. Both applications tend to re-establish the law of the land, whereas it is already established in so many various cases, fought over constitutional agendas wherein rights of foreign companies operating in India have been adjudged. A complete reading of the Idea-Vodafone matter of tax refund and taxation is a clear point in view. And that culminated between two different governments of the Congress and the BJP.
As mentioned in my earlier Edits, proceeding this one, the Government does want to control the media, and there is no harm in some sort of a control as long as it is within the constitutional rights of people. Further, as India progresses and becomes a more vibrant democracy it will be exploited by foreign media companies for revenue. Many years back an eminent lawyer, and a personal friend, filed a PIL, which conclusively spoke about the same matter as he is going on now. There is a link between taxation and social accountability. However that application spoke more of taxation. But now it has to be linked with editorial accountability. Most of the revenue that is billed by advertising on Facebook and Google is remitted from Ireland to the Indian websites. It is only Government action based on these applications as mentioned here that the GST is now charged on the revenue being made in India. However this is just a start and the government may look into equity participation of the entity, which are operating as media companies in India since the level of equity participation of a foreign company in newspapers and magazines is restricted by the Parliament.
The question does remain, not of Twitter or Facebook being made accountable, but the entire media being made accountable. The concept of, where the ‘post originated’, can be said for a newspaper or a magazine too. In that case would the government want to inspect the notebook or the laptop of the journalist who is penning down the news. Clearly as written earlier it is a new method of controlling media, which is linked closely to the upcoming nine state elections and then the general elections. The present central government has had to tackle a lot of negative press due to its policies and those crucial 4 to 5 decisions starting from demonetization, GST, NRC, Art 370, the farmers movement, handling of the Covid crisis and now the IT act. This war between the media and the government may end with some interim judgements coming from the honourable Delhi High Court.
And after that it’s just the BJP election machinery which will take over for canvassing in the states, where in this time, BJP is against a wall as it has a majority in most of these nine states.
CA Divesh Nath
LinkedIn: Divesh Nath