India’s broadcasting landscape is undergoing sweeping changes led by digital technologies, which are blurring traditional boundaries and challenging established business models. While consumers are rapidly shifting away from linear TV to online streaming platforms, broadcasters are exploring newer ways to deliver content in a highly competitive market.
However, the existing rules governing the different platforms are not uniform. For example, when it comes to content regulation, the traditional TV channels have to follow censorship rules, but online streaming players do not come under any regulatory purview. In this context, the proposed Broadcasting Services (Regulation) Bill, 2023 aims to put in place a comprehensive law to plug the regulatory gaps in the digitised broadcasting sector. The Bill streamlines regulatory processes, extends its purview to OTT content and digital news, and introduces contemporary definitions and provisions for emerging technologies, replacing the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995, and other policy guidelines currently governing the broadcasting sector.
One of the notable features of the Bill is the provision for infrastructure sharing among broadcasting network operators for carriage of platform services. This could be a gamechanger for the broadcasting market similar to how the telecom operators benefited from sharing cellular towers and spectrum. The Bill streamlines Right of Way rules, a major pain point for cable operators who find it difficult to obtain permissions from various local agencies to roll out their network. The push to make broadcasting more inclusive and accessible to people with disabilities is a good one. The seriousness of intent is evident from the proposal to appoint a disability grievance officer to monitor compliance.
However, on the issue of content moderation, there is some concern over the Bill’s provision to give the Centre powers to stop transmission of any channel or programme. The draft Bill states that “(if) any authorised officer, thinks it necessary or expedient so to do in the public interest, he may, by order, prohibit any cable broadcasting network operator, radio broadcasting network operator, terrestrial broadcasting network operator and IPTV broadcasting network operator from transmitting or re-transmitting any programme.” Adding to the discomfort is the fact that members of the proposed Broadcast Advisory Council, which will have a final say on censoring content across all mediums including digital news platforms, will all be nominated by the Centre. Hopefully, the Centre will pick at least a few of these members from the broadcast industry and from civil society to keep the panel independent. The Broadcasting Services (Regulation) Bill, 2023, seeks to usher in a modern the regulatory framework, but it must be implemented with caution and careful consideration. As India navigates the ever-changing landscape of broadcasting, striking a balance between regulation and freedom of expression is important.