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News websites, streaming services now under I&B purview

In the absence of any specific laws of online content providers and news platforms, the segment was not directly regulated by any particular ministry and the Information Technology Act, 2000 has provided the overarching legal framework for it.

Written by Krishn Kaushik | New Delhi |
Updated: November 11, 2020 12:35:18 pm
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The government has ordered that digital media, including films and online news platforms, will now come under the purview of the Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. In the absence of any specific laws of online content providers and news platforms, the segment was not directly regulated by any particular ministry and the Information Technology Act, 2000 has provided the overarching legal framework for it.

Though the order signed by President Ram Nath Kovind on November 9, and published by the Cabinet Secretariat on Tuesday, officially brings “Digital/ Online Media” under the I&B Ministry, the ministry has been looking at either pushing for self-regulation, in matters of online content providers, or coming up with laws to bring online news under its purview.

The Cabinet Secretariat amended the Government of India (Allocation of Business) Rules to include “Films and Audio-Visual programmes made available by online content providers” and “News and current affairs content on online platforms” under the I&B Ministry.

At the moment there are a mix of autonomous, government bodies and self-regulatory bodies for the various types of entertainment and news providers depending on the platform.

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For print media, there is the Press Council of India, which is a statutory, quasi-judicial authority; for television news, the News Broadcasting Standards Authority is a self-regulatory body; for films there is the Central Board of Film Certification, which comes under the I&B Ministry; for television entertainment, there is Broadcasting Content Complaints Council, which is also independent and self-regulatory; and similarly the Advertising Standards Council of India, is also a industry self-regulatory body.

Moreover, the I&B Ministry also has a mechanism to penalize television channels—both, news and non-news—for any violation of the programme code and the advertising code prescribed under the Cable Television Network (Regulation) Act, 1995. Complaints can be sent directly to the ministry, or it can raise it through the internal mechanism of the Electronic Media Monitoring Centre.

Last November the government had brought out a draft Registration of Press and Periodicals (RPP) Bill, which sought to replace the 150-year of Press & Registration of Books Act, 1867. It was the first time that the government tried to bring online news platforms under its ambit and at par with print publications and defined news on digital media as “the news in digitised format that can be transmitted over the internet, computer or mobile networks and includes text, audio, video and graphics”.

For online content providers of films and other audio-visual content, the government has been pushing the Online Curated Content Providers or the Over-the-top media service (OTT platforms) to come up with a self-regulatory mechanism. The large OTT players in the country right now are Hotstar, Amazon Prime, Netflix and Alt-Balaji.

However, in September, the government had expressed displeasure at the model proposed by the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI). It mentioned in a letter to IAMAI that the model and the Digital Curated Content Complaints Council (DCCC) proposed lacked independent third-party monitoring, didn’t have a well-defined code of ethics, and did not clearly enunciate prohibited content. The ministry also said that the model suffered from issues of conflict of interest, and asked the IAMAI to look at BCCC and the NBSA models.

The issue of unregulated content on the OTT platforms has been raised in the courts several times in the past.

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