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Media regulation that is quite over the top

  • IASbaba
  • November 13, 2020
  • 0
UPSC Articles
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GOVERNANCE/ RIGHTS/ ECONOMY

Topic: General Studies 2,3:

  • Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation 
  • Awareness in the field of IT

Media regulation that is quite over the top

Context: The government in its latest move has brought online news and current affairs portals along with “films and audio-visual programmes made available by online content providers” under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.

In other words, the Union government has brought Over The Top (OTT) platforms, or video streaming service providers such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and others, under the ambit of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.

Do You Know?

  • The Press Council of India regulates the print media, 
  • News Broadcasters Association (NBA) represents and regulates the news channels, 
  • Advertising Standards Council of India regulates advertising, 
  • Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) monitors films.
  • However, there is no law or autonomous body governing digital content. 

Brief Background to the issue

  • From time to time, the government had indicated the necessity to monitor these platforms. 
  • In October 2019, the government had indicated that it will issue “negative” list of don’ts for the video streaming services like Netflix and Hotstar.
  • Government also wanted the platforms to come up with a self-regulatory body on the lines of the News Broadcasting Standards Authority.
  • Anticipating the government’s intervention, in January 2019, eight video streaming services had signed a self-regulatory code that laid down a set of guiding principles for content on these platforms

What was the self-regulatory Code adopted by OTT platforms?

The code adopted by the OTTs prohibited five types of content. This includes 

  1. Content that deliberately and maliciously disrespects the national emblem or national flag
  2. Any visual or story line that promotes child pornography
  3. Any content that “maliciously” intends to outrage religious sentiments
  4. Any content that “deliberately and maliciously” promotes or encourages terrorism 
  5. Any content that has been banned for exhibition or distribution by law or court.

The government had refused to support this code.

Implication of the Bringing digital media under the I&B Ministry

  • No more unregulated: This will give the government control over OTT platforms, which were unregulated till now
  • Treats to freedom of speech: Such regulatory powers would arm the executive with control over the free press, thereby essentially making it unfree.
  • Matter is being heard in Supreme Court: Passing such executive orders hijacks public interest litigation in the Supreme Court relating to content on “Over The Top” (OTT) platforms
  • It seeks to divide and rule the press by creating an artificial distinction between the new-age digital media (the stand-alone news portals which are already struggling to stay afloat) — which is the media of the future, the media of the millennial generation — and the older print and TV news media.
  • Disincentives Innovation: The fate of the digital media under the control of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting leaves little scope for hope, and dooms the sector for both the media practitioner and the media entrepreneur and for the startups that have been the new vibrant face of contemporary journalism.
  • Not in Democratic Spirit: The move is tantamount to nipping in the bud a promise of combative journalism. It makes our democracy the poorer for it.

Conclusion

Government should walk a tight rope to ensure that content on digital medium doesn’t affect the Nation’s & Society’s interest but should also make sure that regulations don’t stifle the freedom of speech & expression.

Connecting the dots:

  • Sudarshan TV Case: Click here
  • Net Neutrality
  • Shreya Singhal Case

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