In a move that is set to have a major impact on the industry, the Centre has issued a notification to bring online news portals and content providers under the Information and Broadcasting Ministry. The notification, signed by President Ram Nath Kovind, was issued on Monday.
The government regulations apply to content providers such as Amazon, Netflix, Hotstar as well as online news portals, including on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. This will give the government control over OTT platforms, which were unregulated until now.
The notification effectively brings OTT platforms under the I&B Ministry currently headed by Prakash Javadekar. According to an Economic Times report, a ministry official said the move was taken to ensure a level playing field for all media, and bring an “enabling regulatory environment so that all digital players adhere to the laws of the land.”
“Some content on certain platforms has caused a lot of problems to the citizens of the country who don’t even have a grievance redressal platform,” the ET report quoted a top ministry official as stating. Over the years, there have been multiple targeted campaigns against shows on OTT platforms (Leila, Aashram, XXX, Paatal Lok) in relation to sexual content, foul language, hurting religious sentiments, or causing offence.
For months, the government has been hinting at the need to regulate these platforms. In October 2019, the government had indicated that it will issue a “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 Broadcasters Standard Authority.
Wednesday’s notification comes two months after 15 streaming platforms adopted a new and updated code of self-regulation that was developed by the Internet & Mobile Association of India (IAMAI). The measures included a modified grievance redressal mechanism, elimination of a stifling “prohibited content” list as well as of penalties for violation of the code.
Many fear that regulation will have disastrous consequences on the industry that has seen an incredible boom in recent times.
Social media users also pointed out that regulation was unnecessary since people were making choices and no one is being forced to watch anything.
The unregulated nature of online content has led to the discovery of immense talent and creativity. The government must be careful not to hamper that. There’s a thin line between regulation and censorship, and it’s a slippery slope once you get used to the latter.