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Insights into Editorial: How will the government regulate online news and OTT platforms?

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Context:

The Information and Broadcasting Ministry has found a vast swathe of unregulated content, namely news online and Over the top (OTT) platforms which had escaped any architecture of regulation.

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.

Present regulation bodies for OTT platforms:

Currently, there is no law or autonomous body governing digital content. In a gazette notification issued 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.

While the print was regulated by the Press Council of India and Television, both News and Entertainment, were being regulated by the Cable Networks Regulation Act (2005), content on online, the Government felt, fell into a black hole with no oversight.

Though there is no regulatory mechanism for OTTs as of now, all such platforms come under the Information technology Act, 2000 as they qualify to be called as Intermediaries.

Section 79 of the IT Act, intermediaries must exercise due diligence while streaming content. The Guidelines for due diligence have also been framed by the government in 2011.

What is an Over-The-Top platform (OTT)?

  1. OTTs are streaming media services that streams content online. They stream content directly on internet through some means such as applications.
  2. The term OTT is generally used to describe the video-on-demand platforms like Netflix, Amazon prime, etc but OTTs also include audio streaming, messaging, internet-based voice calling services.
  3. OTT bypasses cable, broadcast, and satellite television platforms, the companies that traditionally act as a controller or distributor of such content.
  4. Content is streamed over the public Internet, rather than a closed, private network with proprietary equipment such as set-top boxes.
  5. OTT is also used by traditional distributor of content to live stream specialty channels.

What does the notification mean?

With the issuance of the gazette notification, the Government of India will be able to keep a check on the content on Over The Top (OTT) platforms as well as on the news and current affairs content on online platforms.

The OTT platforms might need to apply for the certification and approval of the content they wish to stream.

Why there is a call for regulation of OTT platforms?

The issue of content regulation has always been important in India because of the diverse nature of Indian society in terms of religion, economic status, caste and language.

Therefore, the effect that OTT has on society forms the basis of its regulation by the state.

The Article 19 which gives a fundamental right to freedom of expression comes with reasonable restrictions of decency and public morality, public order, defamation, incitement to offences, etc.

In times of fast changing entertainment media, government and other stakeholders must come together to bring proper framework that will balance the freedom of expression and necessary restrictions for the sake of law and order.

Other countries of the world such as China and USA have come forward to device laws in the wake of progress in artificial intelligence and Internet-of-things. India with its huge diversity and demographic nature cannot remain behind.

Self-regulation is not sufficient:

Anticipating the government’s intervention, in January 2019, 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:

  1. Content that deliberately and maliciously disrespects the national emblem or national flag.
  2. Any visual or storyline that promotes child pornography.
  3. Any content that “maliciously” intends to outrage religious sentiments.
  4. Content that “deliberately and maliciously” promotes or encourages terrorism and
  5. Any content that has been banned for exhibition or distribution by law or court.
  6. The government had refused to support this code.

Freedom of creativity: As the medium working on Internet which is relatively free from the regulations and censorship norms, it gives a free hand to the content creators to experiment without the fear of getting censored in the end.

OTTs are relatively new and free from formulaic content generation and accepted public morality standards, they are highly liberated medium for creative art.

Conclusion:

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.

The government considers digital media and digital aggregators in the same breath but they are different things.

It is unclear whether it is looking at licensing or entry barriers, or any other curbs in digital media.

There should be a finished industry tie for the achievement of the self-guideline system.

Having talked about controlling online content it is expected that an excess of restriction/guideline could influence the innovative freedom of the content essayists/makers and that thusly will influence the viewership of OTT platforms.

The regulatory framework for OTT platforms has been a work-in-progress since a large portion of 10 years, and it would appear that we actually have a couple of gaps to fill in.

However, monitoring content 24×7 has its own challenges. Whether the Ministry will set up a committee involving the public to look into complaints received remains to be seen.