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Internet and Broadcast Ministry to Regulate OTT platforms : Fear of Censorship?

The Indian government has now brought over-the-top (OTT) platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hotstar and individual online news portals under government regulation. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting will regulate the visual programs and current affairs content according to the amendment order.

This action was signed by the Indian President Ram Nath Kovind on November 11; this news comes contrary to the ‘self-regulation’ and the freedom that the platforms prefer. While the government has described the decision as providing a playing field and creating an enabling regulatory environment, but tensions and concerns arise of curbs of freedom of expression and innovation leading to what can be censored on OTT Platforms.

The new rules could mean as a directional measure on who to lead an issue within the Ministries and not as a regulatory measure, This does not mean the ministry can issue directions and orders which can legally compel non-govt actors to do or not to.

Legal experts point out that placing jurisdiction under the I&B Ministry will probably clear the decks for a regulatory code as the ministry has a long history of regulating content which is under them, the ministry has administered both licensing and content censorship powers in the radio, cinema, and television broadcasting through special regulated laws and rules under them.

According to the watchdog Freedom House, internet freedom in India has declined for the past three years and there are features the order signals the end of journalistic freedom and creativity in India, it is likely to be passed into law this week.

Shows such as Paatal Lok, Sacred Games, and others which have been telecasted on OTT platforms had to not conform to the restrictions which are under the Ministry of I&B such as sex, sexual violence, homophobia and including some sensitive topics like Hindu nationalism if this law is pushed, this will lead to more censorship of the content on streaming devices and give the government the power to act on complaints. This inclusion of online news platforms was also seen as concerning, because online news sources are considered unbiased, and have less censorship than the regular traditional media which is largely influenced by the government. This questions the news of online platforms such as The Wire and Scroll where they are more critical of the ruling party and Modi’s nationalist agendas.

News outlets like these are heavily regulated already and do not have to comply to defamatory complaints, even if they have been charged for criticizing the government this denounces the press freedom that is given to us by the country.

Sites like Twitter and Facebook could also come under this law. OTT platforms will do everything it can to avoid regulation or from being banned, which could mean increasing censorship heavily over the content that we watch now, and using algorithmic tools which could entirely inhibit some small creators who try to make a change in the society.

It is yet unclear how this decision will panel out and be enforced. Some claim that it is a much-needed decision and is not entirely related on regulating the content or any need for it while others claim that it is fascist in nature as there is restricts free speech, free press or freedom of expression.