The likes of Hotstar, Netflix and even news content providers will now be regulated by the I&B Ministry, contrary to what the platforms would like

The likes of Hotstar, Netflix and even news content providers will now be regulated by the I&B Ministry, contrary to what the platforms would like
Regualtion of OTT platforms will now come under the umbrella of the Information and Broadcasting (I&B) MinistryUnsplash/BI India
  • OTT platforms and news content providers in India will no longer be regulated by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) but by the Information and Broadcasting (I&B) Ministry instead.
  • The changing of the guard comes with its own set of challenges like figuring out how user-generated content will be handled versus curated content.
  • The I&B Ministry will also have to figure out how to navigate the multilingual landscape where more and more players are popping up by the day.
Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, Disney+ Hotstar and other over-the-top (OTT) platforms will no longer fall under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY). Instead, their content will be regulated by the Information and Broadcasting (I&B) Ministry, according to a notification signed by India's President Ram Nath Kovind.

This is contrary to the ‘self regulation’ that the platforms prefer. However, the move has not come as a surprise. “Convergence of various ministries is extremely necessary with changes that are coming only in the country but also beyond,” said Amit Khare, secretary of the I&B Ministry, during a FICCI webinar back in July when he hinted that a changing of the guard may be in the works.

Distinguishing between user-generated content and curated content
According to the Counterpoint analyst Tarun Pathak, the change in regulation marks a significant change. But the challenge now will be to distinguish between streaming platforms that curate content — like Netflix, Amazon Prime and others — and platforms that host user-generated content, which includes the likes of YouTube and Facebook.
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The latter are deemed ‘intermediaries’ under the IT Act and do not have active control over the content available on such platforms. The IT Act also recognizes this distinction between different platforms.

It is uncertain as of right now whether that same distinction will be made under the I&B Ministry's rule as well.

The surge in online content
The regulatory regimes for platforms in India — print, radio, television, films, and now, OTT — have largely been developed as per the platform. Some are self-regulated, some are pre-regulated, some are post-regulated and one still stands unregulated.

Until now the likes of Amazon, Netflix, Disney+ Hotstar and others fell under the jurisdiction of the MeitY since they are digital solutions. Moreover, at the time of the formation of the IT Act, the OTT platforms had limited penetration.

And, since then, their content has been largely unregulated with the exception of any self-regulation they put in place for themselves.

The explosion in use of these platforms due to cheap smartphones and affordable data tariffs made the debate on regulation inevitable. “As many platforms are user content-driven and multilingual, it is almost impossible to set up a film like certification system. The internet by nature is free to circulate content, and there is always a very thin line between regulation and censorship,” Tanu Banerjee, the Media & Entertainment Partner at Induslaw, told Business Insider. “In my view, it should be a collaborative approach between the Govt and OTT platforms players to come up with a mechanism to make the internet a better place for its users.”

I&B vs MeitY
Two years ago, I&B formed a committee to devise ways to regulate online media and other Internet content was disbanded after the Prime Minister’s cabinet was reshuffled. Its mandate was handed over to a panel overseen by MeitY.

Then earlier this, when the topic of regulation was broached again, MeitY asserted that the Information Technology (IT) Act 2000 and its intermediary guidelines governed the conduct for all third party content — including content pushed by OTTs. This meant that the regulation of online platforms stands with MeitY, not the I&B Ministry.

I&B, on the other hand, has been asking streaming services to come up with a code of conduct and finalise the details of the Digital Content Complaints Committee (DCCC), similar to the Broadcast Content Complaints Committee (BCCC).

It was only in September 2020, that 17 large OTT players signed a self regulation code to govern content on their platform, which included the mandate to have a DCCC set up.

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