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present government began its online media regulation efforts in 2018 haltingly, with a circular that was subsequently withdrawn.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.

The Covid-19 pandemic led to the country-wide lockdown on 25 March 2020. It will be two years tomorrow as I write this. What have we learned in this time? Maybe the meaning of resilience since small companies like us have had to rely on our resources and the forbearance of our employees as we have struggled to produce our trade platforms.

The print and packaging industries have been fortunate, although the commercial printing industry is still to recover. We have learned more about the digital transformation that affects commercial printing and packaging. Ultimately digital will help print grow in a country where we are still far behind in our paper and print consumption and where digital is a leapfrog technology that will only increase the demand for print in the foreseeable future.

Web analytics show that we now have readership in North America and Europe amongst the 90 countries where our five platforms reach. Our traffic which more than doubled in 2020, has at times gone up by another 50% in 2021. And advertising which had fallen to pieces in 2020 and 2021, has started its return since January 2022.

As the economy approaches real growth with unevenness and shortages a given, we are looking forward to the PrintPack India exhibition in Greater Noida. We are again appointed to produce the Show Daily on all five days of the show from 26 to 30 May 2022.

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– Naresh Khanna

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