National Media Analytics Centre (NMAC)

The Government has proposed to set up a National Media Analytics Centre. The main objective for such a  proposal is to actively come up with instant counters to negate the resentment triggered by news items, so that the contents on the Social media do not snowball in to public protests and create law and order problem.

According to newspaper reports, the National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS) proposed that a National Media Analytics Centre (NMAC) be set up to monitor and analyse blogs, web portals of television channels and newspapers, as well as social media, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

Apart from monitoring, the Centre will actively counter “negative” news about the government through press releases, briefings or press conferences, depending on the intensity of the post.

The move to set up NMAC will be in accordance with Sec 69 of IT Act which allows governments to “intercept, monitor or decrypt information generated, transmitted, received or stored in any computer”.

The NMAC proposal also suggests forming an inter-ministerial committee of officials from NSCS and the Home, I&B and External Affairs ministries for analysis, coordination, information dissemination and feedback on public perception and national security.

The NMAC would be the third wing for observation after the New Media Wing, which sends daily reports to the government on what is appearing in social media on government policies, and the Electronic Media Monitoring Centre (EMMC) that monitor more than 600 channels round the clock.

Why it will be good to have NMAC?

The setting up of NMAC will help in tracking anti national activities and help in curbing offensive contents. With the efforts of terrorist groupings like the Islamic State to radicalize youth, it is imperative to have a centre like NMAC.

The analysis of the public opinion and the public sentiments may also lead to strengthening of public grievance redressal mechanisms.

The episode of  thousands of panic-stricken people of the northeast living Bengaluru following rumors of violence targeting them in 2012 cannot be forgotten. The rumors and negative comments have the potential to create massive law and order problem as in the case of the Bengaluru episode. The activities of anti-social elements, which have the potential to disrupt Communal and national harmony, can be checked.

Immediate press briefings and press releases in response to the allegations leveled against the government can educate the public. Paid news and cooked-up stories could also be checked.

Criticism

There is a suspicion that with the setting up of the NMAC the government plans to prosecute anyone questioning, criticizing, disagreeing with its politics and policies. There is also an apprehension that activities of government negates the individual privacy, freedom of press and violates Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.

It is also feared that the government may use NMAC similar to how it used Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2008. It may be noted in 2015, the Supreme Court struck down Section 66A, declaring it “unconstitutional.” The two-judge bench of Justices J Chelameswar and R F Nariman concluded that the definition of “offensive content” in the section was vague and that Section 66A conflicts with the right to freedom of expression.

It is also contested that there already exists organizations like New Media Wing, EMMC etc. to monitor the anti-social and unwarranted activities, as it is evident from the recent crackdown of Islamic State sympathizers. So, the government has to rethink whether NMAC is needed, as it is a waste of resources and time.

Whether NMAC will turn in to an asset or not will be decided by how the government uses it. If it is used properly, it would strengthen our intelligence capability. Otherwise, it will make a mockery of  our democracy.

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