Kushal Kumar Jha
OTT platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime, & online news portals are now under govt regulation
In a big jolt to freedom of speech & expression on the internet, the Union government has brought Over The Top (OTT) platforms, or online video streaming service providers such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hotstar, and others, under the ambit of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting in a bid to regulate their content. At present, no law or autonomous body is governing digital content. In a gazette notification issued on Wednesday and signed by President Ram Nath Kovind, web series, online films, digital news, and current affairs content now comes under the purview of the I&B Ministry headed by Union Minister Prakash Javadekar. This will allow for the government control over OTT platforms, which were unregulated till now. The Government had indicated the necessity to monitor these platforms for quite a long time now. In October 2019, the government had indicated that it will issue a “negative” list of don’ts for the video streaming services like Netflix and Hotstar. It also wanted the platforms to come up with a self-regulatory body on the lines of the News Broadcasters Standard Authority. Anticipating the government’s will for intervention, in January 2019, eight video streaming services had signed a self-regulatory code that laid down a set of guiding principles for content on these platforms. The self-regulation code adopted by the OTTs prohibited five types of content. This includes content that deliberately and maliciously disrespects the national emblem or national flag, any visual or storyline that promotes child pornography, any content that “maliciously” intends to outrage religious sentiments, content that “deliberately and maliciously” promotes or encourages terrorism, and, lastly, any content that has been banned for exhibition or distribution by law or court. However, the Government had refused to support this code. At present, the Press Council of India regulates the print media, the News Broadcasters Association (NBA) is there to regulate the news channels, the Advertising Standards Council of India regulates advertising, while the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) monitors films. Just like the freedom of speech and expression, this regulatory measure by the government also acts as a double-edged sword. While the intentions must be good from the government's side, but these regulations may allow the government to suppress the creative freedom provided on the internet because of its nature.