The contentious broadcasting bill has brought streaming companies and traditional linear broadcasters together. In written comments to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, both camps emphasised light touch regulation, unlike the bill currently in the drafting stage. According to recommendations of the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) and the Indian Broadcasting and Digital Foundation (IBDF) – the Centre is overreaching regulatorily, especially by bringing streaming applications (OTT) under the draft bill. Moreover, they asked for the current regime of self-regulation of content to continue, while the first draft of the broadcasting bill has introduced two more tiers for regulating content – which are the Content Evaluation Committee (CEC) at the broadcasting level and the Central Government’s Broadcast Advisory Council. Both associations believe these bodies will impede artistic freedom and add needless bureaucratic friction. 

A highly placed source told businessline that the final broadcasting bill come out after the elections, when the new government is formed. The MIB will not invite a second round of consultation, nor release industry comments to the public. “Several RTI applications for the comments have been filed with the government,” the source added however. 

businessline, has however seen the written comments of IBDF (an association that largely represents traditional linear broadcasters and news firms like Zee, Sony, and Viacom18) and IAMAI (representing streaming companies like Netflix and Amazon) – which are a point-by-point takedown of the bill. The contentions are not new, the draft was largely panned by experts at the time of its release. 

Legacy issues

According to IAMAI, several legacy issues in the regulation of the broadcasting sector are being carried through in the bill, “ Unfortunately, the Draft Bill has merely consolidated these guidelines (with legacy issues) and their issues, along with them, under one statute. As such, the Draft Bill does not meet its objective of streamlining the guidelines,” it said. 

Quite predictably, IAMAI is against bringing OTT firms under the purview of MIB, noting that IT rules under the Ministry of Electronics and IT offer sufficient regulations, “IT rules have been working well according to Government feedback,” IAMAI added. IAMAI also pointed out that the bill has not solved the imbalanced regulatory framework for the DTH industry, which is still subject to the 8 per cent licence fee. IAMAI also added that just as the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India is drafting the National Broadcasting Policy (NBP), the broadcasting legislature should follow the NBP and not precede it, especially when the NBP will lay the broad frameworks for the broadcasting industry. 

Light-touch regulatory approach

IBDF also echoed IAMAI’s request for a light-touch regulatory approach. Noting that the scope of the broadcasting bill should be limited to linear broadcasting only. “Given the marked distinction between broadcasting and OCCPs, any inclusion of OCCPs within the fold of Draft Bill would be misplaced and contrary to the principles of reasonable classification,” IBDF further added. IBDF seems to be seeking a light-touch regulation for OTT companies and a similar light-touch regulation for broadcasters. 

Both associations were also against a further push by the Centre for content regulation. IAMAI said that the Centre’s push for a CEC, which is envisioned to be a self-regulatory body that every broadcaster and streaming firm will have, would create overlap with regulation already present in the IT rules. Especially as “Broadcasters and OTT services already have in-house Standards & Practices teams that evaluate content, so there is no need for the Draft Bill to prescribe membership, quorum, and other details for a prescribed CEC.” 

IBDF echoed similar statements, noting that instead of further regulation in the form of a CEC and a BAC, “at best, statutory recognition ought to be provided to the first two tiers of self-regulatory grievance redressal mechanisms to make them more effective.”

Under the current regime, most media companies are already doing some form of censorship or pre-censorship, following a self- regulatory approach. Industry associations are also empowered with a grievance redressal mechanism. 

On Accessibility guidelines for disabilities, broached in the draft bill, firms sought a best-effort basis rather than a prescriptive approach.