The government has brought OTT platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Disney+ Hotstar besides other online news and current affairs content under the ambit of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, giving it powers to regulate policies and rules for the digital space.
So far, there was no law or autonomous body governing digital content in India.
According to a notification issued by the Cabinet Secretariat on Tuesday night and signed by President Ram Nath Kovind, the decision has been taken in exercise of the powers conferred by clause (3) of article 77 of the Constitution, by amending the Government of India (Allocation of Business) Rules, 1961 and it will come into effect immediately.
“These 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.
“In the Government of India (Allocation of Business, 1961, in THE SECOND SCHEDULE, under the heading ‘MINISTRY OF INFORMATION AND BROADCASTING (SOOCHANA AUR PRASARAN MANTRALAYA)’ after entry 22, the following sub-heading and entries shall be inserted, namely:- VA. DIGITAL/ONLINE MEDIA. 22A. Films and Audio-Visual programmes made available by online content providers. 22B. News and current affairs content on online platforms,” it said.
With this, the Information and Broadcasting Ministry has the power to regulate policies related to news, audio, visual contents and films available on online platforms.
The decision came in less than a month after the Supreme Court sought the Centre’s response on a PIL for regulating the Over The Top (OTT) platforms by an autonomous body.
Now, the OTT platforms, which were hitherto unregulated, are expected to come under rules and regulations.
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, including those 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 etc.
However, the government had refused to support this code.
In their plea in the Supreme Court, advocates Shashank Shekhar Jha and Apurva Arhatia sought a proper board/institution /association for the monitoring and management of content on different OTT and Streaming and digital media platforms.
Lack of legislation governing OTT and Streaming Platforms is becoming evident with each passing day and every new case that is filed on these grounds.
“The government is facing heat to fill this lacuna with regulations from the public and the judiciary; still the relevant government departments have not done anything significant to regularise these OTT and streaming platforms,” the plea said.
None of the OTT and streaming platforms have signed the self-regulation provided by the Information and Broadcasting Ministry since February, it added.
The ministry had earlier told the top court in a separate case that there is a need to regulate digital media and that the court may first appoint a committee of persons as amicus before laying down guidelines with respect to the regulation of hate speech in media.
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.