How Centre plans to regulate Content on OTT and Digital Media?

How Centre plans to regulate Content on OTT and Digital Media?

Context: The Centre’s new draft Broadcasting Services (Regulation) Bill, 2023, aims to revamp the regulatory framework for the broadcasting sector in India.

Key provisions:
• The Bill seeks to establish a unified legal structure for various broadcasting services, replacing the threedecade-old Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act.
• It introduces mandatory registration for broadcasting services, the creation of content evaluation committees for self-regulation, and establishment of programme and advertisement codes.
• The Bill proposes a three-tier regulatory structure, including self-regulation by broadcasters, selfregulatory organizations, and a Broadcast Advisory Council.

What are the specific details of the Draft Bill?
• Intimation of Operations: The Bill requires formal registration or intimation to the government for broadcasting services, with exceptions for entities like Prasar Bharati.
• Modern Broadcasting Definitions: It includes definitions for broadcasting, broadcasting networks, and network operators, encompassing internet broadcasting networks like IPTV and OTT services.
• Content Quality and Accessibility: Broadcasters must adhere to yet-to-be-defined Programme and Advertisement Codes and classify their content for viewer discretion. The Bill also emphasizes accessibility for persons with disabilities.
• Content Evaluation Committees: Broadcasters must establish committees with diverse representation for content certification, except for shows exempted by the government.
• Broadcast Advisory Council: An advisory council will oversee regulation implementation, with the power to make recommendations to the government.
• Inspection Rights: The Centre and authorized officers can inspect broadcasting networks and services, raising concerns about government overreach.
• Penalties for Non-Compliance: The Bill includes penalties like removal of shows, apologies, off-air periods, or cancellation of registration for non-compliance.

What are concerns raised by experts?
• Organizations like the Internet Freedom Foundation express concerns about the Bill’s impact on online free speech and creative expression.
• The Bill’s numerous instances of “as may be prescribed” or “as notified by the Government” create uncertainty for stakeholders.
• Subjecting creative media, such as OTT to government prescribed programmes and advertising codes could
impact creativity and freedom of speech and expression.
• A specific provision (point 36) in the draft, emphasizes the broad and ambiguous language that grants authorities the power to prohibit content. Raises questions about the influence of “authorized officers” working under government direction.
• Concerns are also raised over the independence of the Broadcast Advisory Council in exercising its powers under the Act.

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