Indian government to further regulate online content

Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to rule the ether

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Ubiquitous online content consumption Screenshot LiveMint
Ubiquitous online content consumption Screenshot LiveMint

New Delhi 11 November 2020 – India’s government has issued an order for bringing online news portals and content providers under the ambit of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. A gazette notification issued by the country’s president Ram Nath Kovind on 10 November 2020 stating, “films and audio-visual programs made available by online content providers,” and “news and current affairs content on online platforms,” would be brought under the heading’ Ministry of Information and Broadcasting’ in the Second Schedule of Government of India (Allocation of Business) Rules, 1961.

Under the Schedule of Allocation of Business Rules 1961, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has nine major categories – broadcast policy and administration, cable television policy, radio, Doordarshan, films, advertising and visual publicity, press, publications, and research and reference. The news and current affairs content on online platforms is listed under the sub-category of ‘Films’ rather than ‘Press.’

Industry experts say that the notification means that the I&B ministry now gets the power to regulate streaming OTT platforms such as Netflix. Ostensibly this brings emerging media under government regulation similar to print, radio, TV, and films.

The present government began its online media regulation efforts in 2018 haltingly, with a circular that was subsequently withdrawn. But the idea of curbing online media has remained a bee in the government’s bonnet. As other media have reported, a report by the Centre for Communication Governance (CCG) at the National Law University in Delhi had even two years ago revealed that online platforms are already heavily regulated.

The online space is governed by the Information Technology Act, 2000, of which the courts struck down some parts as unconstitutional. Nevertheless, the government can block, filter, and take down online content online or even wholly deny internet access – an option that has frequently been used by the government. The order comes just a week after the South Asia chapter of the World Editors Forum released its report on the Media Laws in India.