India's broadcasting ministry secures power to regulate streaming services, online content

CIOReviewIndia Team | Wednesday, 11 November 2020, 10:48 IST

The Indian Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, which evaluates programmes telecasted and performed at theatres countrywide, is now ready to regulate the policies for streaming platforms and digital news outlets in a move that is widely believed to kickstart and era of highly strict and more frequent censorship on what is being aired.

The Indian President Ram Nath Kovind, this week, signed the new rules, which might end the years-long efforts by digital firms in self-regulation of their own content for avoiding the broader oversight which impacts the television channels and theatres, where programmes appeared on those platforms. (Streaming platforms may get permission for continuing self-regulation and reporting to I&B, similar to how TV channels follow a programming code and their self-regulatory body, working with I&B, however, there is no clarity regarding this presently).

The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting presently certifies what appears as hit in the theatres in India and the scenes that need clipping or altering for acquiring those certifications.

On Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, the movies and shows that appear, did not require a certification previously, and had wider tolerance for sensitive subjects. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting previously also ordered local television channels for not airing any sensitive documentaries.

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, previously oversaw online streaming services, however, did not enforce any major changes, and the ministry also oversees platforms where videos are populated by users.

The officials of India’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting previously had arguments on the proliferation of online platforms in India, where about 600 million internet users in the country, need to parity between regulations on them and traditional media sources.

Amit Khare, Secretary of Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, earlier this year, said, “There is definitely a requirement of level playing field for all media. However, it doesn’t mean we are bringing everybody under a heavy regulatory structure. The government has been focusing on easing down of doing business and less regulation, but more effective regulation.”

This move, by the world’s second largest internet market, is bound to make players like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney’s Hotstar, Times Internet’s MX Player, and dozens of other streaming services and web-based news outlets stay more cautious on what they select for streaming and publish on their platforms. An executive with one of the top streaming services said to TechCrunch requesting anonymity.

Netflix, which has poured over half a billion dollars in its India business, refused to comment.

Digital news outlets, and platforms, which cover ‘current affairs’ will now also be under the radar of the India’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. Over the years, the Indian government has pressured advertisers and indulged in other practices for shaping what several news channels show to their audiences.

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