Indian government to further regulate online content

Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to rule the ether

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present government began its online media regulation efforts in 2018 haltingly, with a circular that was subsequently withdrawn.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

2023 promises an interesting ride for print in India

Indian Printer and Publisher founded in 1979 is the oldest B2B trade publication in the multi-platform and multi-channel IPPGroup. While the print and packaging industries have been resilient in the past 33 months since the pandemic lockdown of 25 March 2020, the commercial printing and newspaper industries have yet to recover their pre-Covid trajectory.

The fragmented commercial printing industry faces substantial challenges as does the newspaper industry. While digital short-run printing and the signage industry seem to be recovering a bit faster, ultimately their growth will also be moderated by the progress of the overall economy. On the other hand book printing exports are doing well but they too face several supply-chain and logistics challenges.

The price of publication papers including newsprint has been high in the past year while availability is diminished by several mills shutting down their publication paper and newsprint machines in the past four years. Indian paper mills are also exporting many types of paper and have raised prices for Indian printers. To some extent, this has helped in the recovery of the digital printing industry with its on-demand short-run and low-wastage paradigm.

Ultimately digital print and other digital channels 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. For instance, there is no alternative to a rise in textbook consumption but this segment will only reach normality in the next financial year beginning on 1 April 2023.

Thus while the new normal is a moving target and many commercial printers look to diversification, we believe that our target audiences may shift and change. Like them, we will also have to adapt with agility to keep up with their business and technical information needs.

Our 2023 media kit is ready, and it is the right time to take stock and reconnect with your potential markets and customers. Print is the glue for the growth of liberal education, new industry, and an emerging economy. We seek your participation in what promises to be an interesting ride.

– Naresh Khanna

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