Unanswered questions as regulation of OTT platforms and digital news providers moves from one government department to another

Unanswered questions as regulation of OTT platforms and digital news providers moves from one government department to another
What will the changing of the guard mean for regulations around OTT platforms?Unsplash
  • Regulation of OTT platforms and digital news providers will now fall under the gambit of the Information and Broadcasting (I&B) Ministry instead of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeiTY).
  • With the winter session of parliament right around the corner, many are nervous that this could indicate more than just the changing of the guard.
  • Here are the burning unanswered questions that the online community is wondering about.
The regulation of OTT platforms like Netflix, HotstarDisney+, Amazon Prime Video and others has been pulled from the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeiTY) and handed off to the Information and Broadcasting (I&B) Ministry.

Aside from the changing of the guard, the government is yet to shed light on what it actually means for the OTT channel and news content curators themselves. One can only assume that a new regulatory framework will be put in place to address the challenges that have cropped in recent years. The winter session of Parliament is also right around the corner.

“Although there is little to no clarity about what this entails for different types of intermediaries, platform and content creators, it portends a regime with more interference from the Ministry of I&B and less reliance on self-regulation by the OTT platforms extending the censorship heavy legacy to the Internet,” technology lawyer and founder of the Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC) told Business Insider.

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Despite the ambiguity, Internet Freedom Foundation chair and founder of SaveTheInternet Raman Chima, also believes that this is more than just a reorganisation of departments. “It does indicate government intent. That is definitely worrying. This change was made without any proper public consultation,” he explained on Twitter.

Here are some of the unanswered questions around what the change in regulations could mean for OTT platforms and news content providers:

  • Will the government be holding a discussion with stakeholders before implementing new regulations?
Some experts believe that there is a trend in the making. First, the government added a regulatory structure around foreign direct investment (FDI) and now, it’s looking to regulate content.

  • Will the new regulations be on par with current regulations currently in place?
The key obstacle they will face is that, at a technical level, broadcast, print and digital aren’t the same. This will make treating them as the same increasingly difficult.
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  • How will user-generated content be regulated on platforms like YouTube, Facebook and others?
While OTT platforms curate content and are responsible for what goes up on the platform, YouTube and Facebook are ‘intermediaries’. This means that they do take any responsibility for the content that is posted on their site, and instead pass the buck onto individual users.

  • How will digital news media be defined? Will personal channels like Dhruv Rathi and Akash Banerjee come under digital news media?
The mediums used to dispense the news in the digital era expands well beyond the written word or even structured news publications. There are influencers like Dhruv Rathi analysing the news, personalised newsletters that people can subscribe to, instagram alerts and so much more. The new regulations will have to define what amounts to news, and what does not.

  • Will every news organisation on the internet will have to register itself?
Not every news publication exists in the brick-and-mortar world, some are only digital. In fact, the freedom to register a website and dispense content at a minimal cost is of the primary pros of being on the internet. But non-digital news organisations have to register and get government approval before they can take off. If the same applies to the online world, it should lead to a drastic cut in the number of publications able to report the news.
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  • Will this mean nobody can post on YouTube or Facebook if they’re not registered?
In addition to channels and influencers, day-to-day users also express their opinion and share the news online. Like FM channels, will this mean that those who are not registered will no longer be allowed to post about the news on social networking hubs like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube? Will generic vlogs be flagged or taken down should they make mention of any current events?

  • Will there be a cap on subscriptions and memberships, or a minimum rate that can be charged?
News publications and individuals are also offering newsletters and subscriptions. The new slew of regulations hold the potential to cap the number of people who can sign up. They could also dictate a ceiling price that would limit how much can be charged for such services.

  • Is the government going to block any news outfit or OTT that’s not registered in India?
In addition to the publications in India, it’s uncertain what the regulations will mean for foreign entities. While they do report on India, without registering with the government on par with print regulations the government may block access.
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  • Will content rules for OTT platforms now be the same as the ones for television channels?
Television channels have to adhere to strict rules about what can and cannot be said while OTT platforms do not. This has been one of the critical reasons behind the success of shows like Sacred Games, or Mirzapur.

  • Will movies that release exclusively on the internet now require a certification from the licensing board?
Movies that get released online don’t need to be licensed by Central Board of Film Certification. But with the I&B Ministry at the helm, they may have to adhere to the rules and regulations of the board, which many fear will restrict creative expression.

The way news is disseminated is also diversifying. Publications have alerts on WhatsApp and Telegram, others have personalised newsletters, and most are spread across difficult mediums — from text to video to podcasts.
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Individual states already have anti fake-news task forces within their ranks that have thus far proven ineffective, other than in cases on anti-government news deemed to be misleading.

Given the wide array of complications in implementing blanket regulations, the task will be nearly impossible to execute. So, what remains to be seen, is what the government’s intent is behind bringing a new regulatory authority for OTT platforms and news content providers.

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