The Cheat Sheet

A move to regulate OTT and digital news platforms

Meenakshi Verma Ambwani | Updated on November 18, 2020 Published on November 18, 2020

The world has been coping with the pandemic blues by streaming their favourite shows on OTT apps or keeping themselves busy checking out on the latest updates on the news sites, as they stay and work from home. While the latest season of The Crown on Netflix maybe getting rave reviews, in India, OTT platforms and digital media organisations have been hitting the headlines for very different reasons.

So what exactly happened?

Last week, the Centre amended the Allocation of Business Rules, 1961 and decided to bring digital content streamed on OTT platforms and news and current affairs content uploaded or streamed on digital news platforms, under the ambit of the Information and Broadcasting Ministry.

The Ministry said this was done to ensure a level-playing field across all segments of the media. The government officials have in the past pointed out that all segments of the media — TV, radio, print and films — are either self-regulated, pre-regulated or post-regulated but OTT is the only segment that is unregulated. While the content aired on television channels need to adhere to the programming and advertising code prescribed in the Cable TV Act, films need to get a stamp of approval from the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) before they are screened in theatres. But films or audio-visual content aired on OTT platforms are not certified by any regulatory or autonomous body in the country.

Was this a surprise?

The Ministry had indicated in July that it intends to take jurisdiction of online content regulation from the Ministry of Electronics and Information & Technology.

In the recent past, complaints against content aired on OTT channels have been piling up and the Centre, for the past two years, had been nudging OTT platforms to formulate a self-regulatory model to look into complaints. Earlier this year, 15 OTT platforms came together as signatories of the self-regulatory code under the aegis of the Internet and Mobile Association of India. But it failed to get the endorsement of the I&B Ministry.

Complaints against print media content are reviewed by the Press Council of India. Similarly, complaints against TV news content, general entertainment content and ads are looked into by industry backed self-regulatory bodies.

What are experts saying?

In the past, Ministry officials have stated that they would prefer to have a light-touch regulatory regime. Industry observers said more clarity is needed and it remains to be seen what sort of mechanism the I&B Ministry will adopt for digital content regulation.

What about the digital news media segment?

Last year, the government recognised the emergence of digital news media and said FDI up to 26 per cent will be allowed through the government approval route in this segment. In October, the government further clarified that this FDI norm will apply to entities that upload or stream news and current affairs on digital platforms and news agencies which supply news to digital media agencies or news aggregators. It also said news aggregators, which use software and aggregate content from various sources in one location will also need to adhere to this norm.

This week, the I&B Ministry has asked digital media companies to take measures to comply with these norms and it has asked digital news media players that have an equity structure with more than 26 per cent foreign investments to reduce this to the prescribed norms by October 15, 2021 with the Ministry’s approval. In addition, all digital news media organisations have been asked to furnish information related to their shareholding and financials within a month.

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Published on November 18, 2020
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