The Union Government has taken Over The Top ( OTT) websites, or video streaming service providers such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, and others, under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting in a step that will have a far-reaching effect.
There is no legislation or autonomous entity currently regulating digital content. Online films, digital news, and current affairs material are now covered by the I&B Ministry, headed by Prakash Javadekar, in a gazette notification released on Wednesday and signed by President Ram Nath Kovind.
This will give the government leverage over the previously unregulated OTT platforms. The government has suggested the need to monitor these networks from time to time. In October 2019, the government suggested that video streaming services such as Netflix and Hotstar will issue a “negative” list of don’ts. It also wanted the platforms to create a self-regulatory agency on the lines of the News Broadcasters Regulatory.
Eight video streaming services signed a self-regulatory code in January 2019 in anticipation of the government’s involvement, which established a set of guiding principles for content on these platforms.
Five material forms were forbidden by the code adopted by the OTTs. This includes material that purposely and maliciously disrespects the national emblem or national flag, any visual or storyline that promotes child pornography, any content that “maliciously” aims to outrage religious feelings, content that promotes or facilitates terrorism “deliberately and maliciously” and, ultimately, any content that has been forbidden by law or dissemination for display or distribution.
The state declined to endorse this code.
The Press Council of India currently regulates print media, the News Broadcasters Association (NBA) represents news channels, advertisement is governed by the Advertising Standards Council of India, while films are supervised by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC).
The decision by the central government to put the OTT platforms under the I&B ministry may also mean that these platforms will have to apply for the content they want to stream to be accredited and licensed. As most OTT platforms have content that may otherwise be censored by the certification boards in India, this in itself is likely to lead to several disputes.