Gentle regulation of content material might stay a mirage
When the government introduced the information technology rules (intermediary guidelines and code of ethics for digital media) to regulate social media, digital platforms and streaming services in February 2021, it called the rules a “soft-touch regulatory architecture”. It was far from since critics and stakeholders complained that the rules were affecting their rights and creative freedom. The changes to the cable TV rules introduced last month sparked a similar response, with TV news networks challenging them in court.
Earlier this month, the Kerala Supreme Court ordered the Department of Information and Broadcasting (I&B) not to take coercive action against news channels that are members of the News Broadcasters Association (NBA) for failing to comply with the amended cable television rules. The NBA took legal action against new provisions in the Cable Television Networks (Amendment) Rules that require broadcast industry self-regulators to register with the ministry and broadcasters to use complaints officers to deal with content complaints.
The new rules also create a third level – a supervisory mechanism – for redressing complaints that goes beyond the television broadcaster and its self-regulatory authority. It will publish a charter and codes of conduct for self-regulatory bodies and also set up an interdepartmental committee headed by an additional secretary from the I&B Department to review complaints against TV content.
In its plea, the NBA stated that this would give the executive unrestricted and excessive powers to regulate content. “The NBA criticizes the 2021 amendments as violating the fundamental rights of the constitution (Article 14, Article 19 (1) (a) and Article 19 (1) (g)) and claims to have violated the right to equality before the law of freedom of expression and expression and the right to trade, “said Chandrima Mitra, partner at DSK Legal.
“We understand that the biggest challenge is meeting Rules 18-20 of the 2021 Amendment as they create the oversight mechanism that allows government to regulate the content of news channels. The petitioners have argued that the aforementioned rules give the interdepartmental committee the power to rule on decisions made by retired Supreme Court / High Cort judges (as they run the self-regulatory bodies), thus allowing the executive to intervene in the judicial process “, added her.
Ashok Mansukhani, attorney and media specialist for the Bombay High Court, agreed. “All forms of media, with the exception of newspapers, will now have a three-tier self-regulatory mechanism with ‘strong’ government oversight,” he said. “It is important that this cross-departmental committee can recommend deleting or changing content and not only overrule HC or SC judges, but even completely bypass the second level of self-regulation.”
Mitra is seeing a trend in IT regulations 2021, the proposed changes to the Cinematographers Act of 1952, and now the cable television changes – the center is trying to change the legislation to put security in place so that the content is in the public interest. “While technological change and developments in the digital world require changes that correspond to the current times, these changes in content-related legislation could lead to more and more broadcasters, producers, over-the-top (OTT) platforms and content creators more careful about the kind of stories they want to tell to avoid the risk of complaints or litigation, “she added.
The choice of content is subjective and views on content will inevitably be different in a country as diverse as India. “But the government must be able to draw a clear line as to which views are to be taken seriously and which are not to be allowed, since according to Article 19 (1) (a) it is a fundamental right of every Indian citizen to have speech and Freedom of expression and any restriction of this right may only take place in accordance with Article 19 (2), ”said Mitra.
Mansukhani claimed that the regulation of broadcasters through the Cable TV Act was a legislative failure to effectively monitor a dynamic broadcast media industry. He has campaigned for an autonomous broadcasting regulator for the sector for years and often cites the Supreme Court ruling in the Cricket Association of Bengal case, which stated, “Air or frequencies are public property. Their use must be controlled and regulated by an authority in the interest of the public and to prevent the violation of their rights … “
But the times have changed. As the center tightened the noose around all content across platforms – social, digital, streaming, and broadcast – Mansukhani regretted that light-touch regulation will remain a mirage in the near future.
Shuchi Bansal is the media, marketing and advertising editor for Mint. Ordinary Post will address urgent issues on all three. Or just funny things.
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