In a move that will have a far-reaching impact, 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.
Currently, there is no law or autonomous body governing digital content. In a gazette notification issued on Wednesday and signed by President Ram Nath Kovind, online films, digital news and current affairs content now come under the purview of the I&B Ministry headed by Prakash Javadekar.
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This will give the government control over OTT platforms, which were unregulated till now. 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. It 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.
The code adopted by the OTTs prohibited five types of content. This includes content that deliberately and maliciously disrespects the national emblem or national flag, any visual or story line that promotes child pornography, any content that “maliciously” intends to outrage religious sentiments, content that “deliberately and maliciously” promotes or encourages terrorism and, lastly, any content that has been banned for exhibition or distribution by law or court.
The government had refused to support this code.
At present, the Press Council of India regulates the print media, the News Broadcasters Association (NBA) represents the news channels, the Advertising Standards Council of India regulates advertising, while the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) monitors films.
Mr. Javadekar did not speak on the issue or explain the implications of such an order. The Ministry has also remained tight-lipped on exactly what is in store for digital news media and OTT platforms. An official from one of the leading OTT platforms said that it was too early to comment since there was no clarity from the government on what this notification would finally lead to.
Founding editor of news portal The Wire, M. K. Venu, said the government had been giving enough hints from time to time that it wanted to regulate digital media but the exact nature of the regulation it wanted to bring was not clear. “There is no clarity on what they mean by digital media. The government talks about digital media and digital aggregators in the same breath but they are different things. Are they looking at licensing, are they looking at entry barriers, or are they looking at curbing digital media? We still don’t know,” Mr. Venu said.