New Delhi: The government has put OTT platforms such as Netflix as well as news and current affairs content on online platforms under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and given its powers to regulate policies and rules for the digital space.
There was no law or autonomous body governing digital content in India so far. Now, OTT and other platforms, including digital news websites, are expected to fall within a governmental framework of rules and regulations.
According to a notification issued by the Cabinet Secretariat on Tuesday night and signed by President Ram Nath Kovind, the decision comes into effect immediately.
It was taken in exercise of the powers conferred by clause (3) of Article 77 of the Constitution by amending the Government of India (Allocation of Business) Rules, 1961, the notification said.
With this, the Information and Broadcasting ministry has the power to regulate policies related to news, audiovisual content, and films on online platforms. These include over the top' platforms Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Disney+Hotstar as well as homegrown ones like SonyLIV, and digital news websites, including The Wire and Scroll often seen as being critical of the government.
Digital media is already regulated through the IT Act and other laws, albeit within the framework of the Constitution that guarantees freedom of speech, veteran media insiders pointed out.
Though a cross-section of journalists, writers, and directors in digital news platforms and those providing content for OTT services responded with dismay, there was little clarity on what kind of regulations the move would entail.
Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar said he would give a detailed briefing on the matter on Thursday. He was asked about the move during the Cabinet briefing on Wednesday.
The government's decision comes less than a month after the Supreme Court sought the Centre's response on a PIL seeking regulation of OTT platforms by an autonomous body.
These rules may be called the Government of India (Allocation of Business) Three Hundred and Fifty-Seventh Amendment Rules, 2020. They shall come into force at once.
"In the Government of India (Allocation of Business, 1961, in THE SECOND SCHEDULE, under the heading 'MINISTRY OF INFORMATION AND BROADCASTING (SOOCHANA AUR PRASARAN MANTRALAYA)' after entry 22, the following sub-heading and entries shall be inserted, namely:- VA. DIGITAL/ONLINE MEDIA. 22A. Films and Audio-Visual programmes made available by online content providers. 22B. News and current affairs content on online platforms," the notification said.
MX Player CEO Karan Bedi said he looks forward to working with the ministry to implement the efforts towards self-regulation.
As responsible content creators, we want to ensure this act not only takes cognizance of the nature of the content being released but also ensures that we safeguard creativity in this rapidly growing sector, Bedi told PTI.
Several other major OTT platforms declined to comment on the development when contacted.
But filmmakers and writers did not mince their words.
The decision could put Indian content creators at a disadvantage on the world stage and curtail the creative and personal freedom of makers as well as viewers, said several big names in the OTT circuit.
Hansal Mehta, Reema Kagti, and Karan Anshuman, who have been making streaming content on various OTT platforms, were among those who spoke out.
"It puts Indian content creators at a disadvantage when they are competing on the world stage...I don't know the legal ramifications of this. It is too premature to talk what can be done. We should wait and hope things will get clear when the guidelines or whatever is the intent comes into play, said Kagti, one of the directors on Amazon Prime Video's show Made in Heaven along with Zoya Akhtar and Alankrita Shrivastava.
However, nothing specific has been said regarding censorship, except that it is coming under the ambit of I&B ministry," she said, adding that creators are asked for many cuts even though films are certified A'.
Mehta, who made his streaming debut recently with the acclaimed Scam 1992 on SonyLIV, said the decision wasn't unexpected but was a reason for despair.
"This desperation for control of free speech and expression does not augur well. I am currently very disappointed," Mehta told PTI.
Anshuman, the director-writer of Mirzapur and Inside Edge on Amazon Prime Video, termed the move unacceptable and appealed to viewers and creators to band together and challenge the censorship in any and every manner .
Whatever happened to the understanding with Mr (Prakash) Javadekar that OTT will be self-regulated? The govt is giving in to the basest demands of prudes. How is this progress in any manner? Don't like it, don't watch it. Don't impose your regressive views on a billion people. Where is the public discourse before this autocratic decision was announced? And what's the process to appeal, if there's one at all? he wrote on Twitter.
At present, the Press Council of India regulates the print media, the News Broadcasters Association (NBA) represents the news channels, the Advertising Standards Council of India regulates advertising, while the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) monitors films.
In January 2019, eight video streaming services signed a self-regulatory code that laid down a set of guiding principles for content on these platforms.
The code adopted by the OTTs prohibited five types of content including those that deliberately and maliciously disrespect the national emblem or national flag, any visual or storyline promoting child pornography, any content that maliciously intends to outrage religious sentiments, and content that deliberately and maliciously promotes or encourages terrorism.
However, the government refused to support this code.
In their plea in the Supreme Court, advocates Shashank Shekhar Jha and Apurva Arhatia sought a proper board/institution/association for the monitoring and management of content on different OTT and streaming and digital media platforms.
"The government is facing heat to fill this lacuna with regulations from the public and the judiciary; still the relevant government departments have not done anything significant to regularise these OTT and streaming platforms," the plea said.
None of the OTT and streaming platforms have signed the self-regulation provided by the Information and Broadcasting Ministry since February, it added.
The ministry had earlier told the apex court in a separate case that there is a need to regulate digital media and the court may first appoint a committee of persons as amicus before laying down guidelines with respect to the regulation of hate speech in media.
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Bengaluru, Jun 12: Karnataka police on Saturday said they have busted a Rs 290 crore plus scam that involved duping people through a mobile app after promising attractive interest on investment and two Chinese nationals were among the nine arrested.
The scam, aided by shell companies, is linked to money laundering and the suspected kingpin is a Kerala based business man with proximity to Chinese 'hawala' operators, they said.
Cyber Crime Division of CID said it has arrested accused persons, including two Chinese nationals, two Tibetans and five others acting as directors of the companies involved, and a search is on for the rest.
A complaint from Razor pay Software Private Limited said accused persons availed 'payment solutions' from them, claiming that they are in gaming, social and e-commerce businesses.
They, however, defrauded the company by using computer resources and by deviating from their original, registered line of business, the plaint said.
They started routing their transactions to collect payments from a different business named "Powerbank", an app listed in Google Playstore, cyber police said in a release.
Through customer complaints, the complainant company got to know that public invested money in the "Powerbank" app to earn interest on the invested amount.
The accused persons, after accepting the investments, neither gave the agreed interest nor the principal amount and cheated customers.
A case was registered under the Information Technology Act and 420 IPC (Cheating), the CCD said and added that the investigating team were successful in arresting nine men.
During investigation, it was found that Anas Ahmed, a Kerala based businessman, is the main person involved.
"We have also identified that he has very proximate connections with the Chinese hawala operators, which has come to light during the course of the investigation.
He had opened shell companies in the name of Bull Finch Technologies, H & S ventures and Clifford ventures to route the fraud money. Anas Ahamed is married to Chinese national and incidentally he did his studies in China," police said in the release.
Online applications hosted by him were later camouflaged and converted into different apps including Power Bank application, seeking investment from the public and promising good returns, the CCD said.
An unusual spike was seen in investments on the day Anees Ahmed announced much higher returns.
Subsequently, such apps were removed from Google Playstore and other websites and he absconded with the money.
Investigation showed Rs 290 crore inflow into his bank accounts and the CCD was successful in freezing a significant portion of it. There was a huge spike in opening of shell companies since November 2020.
"We have also observed that the Chinese handlers are in possession of a huge number of shell companies and bank accounts. Lured by the offer of the Chinese nationals, many innocent Indians and Tibetans have fallen in their trap to open shell companies and open bank accounts for them."