In a move that is set to bring in popular OTT platforms such as Netflix under tighter Indian government control, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has undertaken all streaming platforms and digital new portals in India under its wings of regulation. The order passed by the President of India, amends the Government of India (Allocation of Business) Rules,1961 to include two new subsections namely, “Films and Audio-Visual programs made available by online content providers” and “News and current affairs content on online platforms”. President’s seal is ofcourse more of a formality in India, wherein the Parliament holds most power.
It is being popularly believed that post this move, content on OTT platforms which were self-censored until now, will be heavily censored under the I&B Ministry’s jurisdiction. The Ministry already oversees programs and content published on the television and theatre platforms and censors sensitive content accordingly. The film certification body, CBFC, also comes under the I&B ministry and overlooks the issuing of certificates to films that are distributed in theatres.
OTT platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney+Hotstar have become popular among the audience as they do not shy away from screening sensitive subjects. With the ability of self-censorship, the power of editing out content was completely in the hands of the streaming services themselves. However, the new rules seem to transfer this power to the I&B ministry and experts believe that this will hamper the freedom of expression that the OTT platforms had up until now.
Experts believe, that with sweeping new censorship powers, OTT platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime will be far more cautious while publishing content than before.
The government, on the other hand, looks at this differently. It has previously said that the online streaming industry has a large audience in the country, which makes it necessary to impose regulations on them. Amit Khare, Secretary of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting had earlier said, “There is definitely a need for a level playing field for all media. But that doesn’t mean we will bring everybody under a heavy regulatory structure. Our government has been focused on ease of doing business and less regulation, but more effective regulation.”
As of now, only an amendment has been made to include streaming services and online news outlets under the I&B Ministry. No such policy to regulate content on online platforms has been made yet, which means streaming services are still continuing to self-censor.