The Union government issued an order on Wednesday to include digital and online media, as well as news and current affairs content online, under the purview of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. This means that online streaming platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Disney+ Hotstar, as well as digital news media, will come under the purview of the Union government. While there is no clarity yet on what this move would mean for OTT platforms and digital news media in terms of censorship, it is likely that content on streaming sites could be brought under the Censor Board. However, this may not be easy as most platforms do not upload content from India.
According to reports, this will give the Union government power to draft policies for OTT platforms, and digital media, like it already does for television and print media as well. Those in the industry have observed that coming under the I&B by itself doesnât confer rule-making powers over digital news, as those can only come through statute.
According to the government order, the Government of India (Allocation of Business) Rules, 1961 has been amended to include âFilms and Audio-Visual programmes made available by online content providersâ as well as âNews and current affairs content on online platformsâ as well.
âThese rules may be called the Government of India (Allocation of Business) Three Hundred and Fifty Seventh Amendment Rules, 2020. They shall come into force at once,â the government order says.
With respect to streaming platforms, the idea is reportedly to enable a level playing field for all media and ensure all digital platforms are regulated and adhere to the law of the land. This move comes after the Supreme Court, in October, sought a response from the Union government over a public interest litigation (PIL) filed for regulating OTT platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hotstar, among others.
According to the PIL filed by advocate Shashank Shekhar Jha, none of the streaming platforms had signed the self-regulation code provided by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting since February. There were also concerns that these platforms were not regulated.
This change was reportedly first indicated by the ministry in July. Earlier, OTTs technically came under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), which regulated online content under the IT Act, 2000. In fact, the I&B ministry reportedly reached out to MeitY earlier this year to look at how it can transfer regulatory powers to itself without having to amend the IT Act.
Over the past two years, the government had been indicating that these streaming platforms would need to be regulated. The I&B ministry had reportedly said in a Lok Sabha response that it doesnât have jurisdiction over video streaming platforms.
The platforms that signed the code are Zee5, Viacom 18, Disney+Hotstar, Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, MX Player, Jio Cinema, Eros Now, Alt Balaji, Arre, HoiChoi, Hungama, Shemaroo, Discovery Plus and Flickstree.
This code put in place a framework for classification of age, content description, control tools, among others. There was also a grievance redressal and escalation mechanism in case platforms that signed the code do not comply with the guidelines.
However, the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting didnât support the self-regulation code and wrote to IAMAI saying that the code didn't have a list of prohibited content. It also said the code has a conflict of interest, especially in the Advisory Panel where appeals of complaints would be heard, had the streaming services itself and only one outside member.