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Nearly a week after the Indian government issued guidelines to regulate content on social media and OTT platforms, the Supreme Court of India has said that the guidelines provided have “no teeth” and lacked a provision for prosecution in case of violations, failing to provide an effective mechanism to screen content.

The Supreme Court bench headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan granted relief from arrest to Aparna Purohit, head of Amazon Prime’s India on the same day, in the investigation against the web series ‘Tandav,’ which had sparked a lot of controversies ever since it was first aired, having been accused of the inappropriate depiction of the UP police, Hindu deities and an adverse portrayal of a character playing the prime minister in the web series.

“There is no mechanism to control social media platforms. Without legislation, you (government) cannot control it,” said the apex court bench while hearing Ms Purohit’s appeal against the Allahabad High Court’s February 25 order declining anticipatory bail to her. The bench also issued a notice to the UP government on Ms Purohit’s plea for an anticipatory bail in FIRs on Tandav.

The Supreme Court expressed its dissatisfaction with the guidelines. “Rules are in the nature of the guidelines with no effective regulation for either screening or taking appropriate action against those who violate these guidelines. We have gone through your rules and it does not have any teeth. No power for prosecution, no mechanism to control violations,” said Bhushan. The apex court also said that there was a need for a law to be framed to create a mechanism to control the OTT platforms instead of mere guidelines.

The popularity of OTT platforms soared in 2020 when the pandemic forced cinema halls to pull down shutters and confined people to their homes. The Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021 prescribes, for the first time, how digital news organizations, OTTs and social media platforms will be regulated by the government.

Earlier, the Supreme Court had called for the screening of video content shown on OTT platforms after allegations of the airing of pornographic material on the platforms had been made known. The apex court directed the Centre to place before it the recent guidelines of the government to regulate social media platforms, re-iterating the need for a mechanism to screen such programs.

Justice Bhushan said that he has asked the Centre to submit a new proposal to the court with stronger provisions. “The government will consider appropriate steps; any regulation on digital platforms will be placed before the court,” said Solicitor General Tushar Mehta.