The government has brought digital content including news, web shows, and streaming platforms under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) in a move to monitor the digital medium closely.
The government has issued a gazette notification for the same, with the President of India approving the order.
Experts say the next step could be the framing of content guidelines for the digital medium, though the government gave no indication of the same. So far, over-the-top (OTT) content was regulated by the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology (MeitY). The entry of MIB will mean that both television and digital content will now be monitored by the former.
“Curated content on OTT platforms will also warrant a level of certification, censorship and care that other avenues for content consumption attract,” said Sajai Singh, partner at J Sagar Associates. “If self-censorship under the self-regulatory code is unacceptable to the Ministry of I&B, then our hope is that it will consider the recommendations made by the expert committee, chaired by Shyam Benegal, while trying to formulate norms and procedure for certification of content on OTT platforms,” he said.
Last month, the Supreme Court had issued a notice to the Centre and the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IMAI) in a petition to regulate OTT platforms by an independent body.
The IMAI had in September brought 15 OTTs, including Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+ Hotstar, ALTBalaji, and ZEE5, to sign a code of self-regulation for digital content. But the code was not accepted by the MIB, which is seeking a tighter set of guidelines for the medium. This includes laying down what can be allowed and not allowed in terms of content and setting up a complaints council to address grievances.
“I see the move to bring digital content under MIB as a starting point to forming a regulatory standard for the digital space. It may not mean blanket censorship. But this is certainly a step towards some kind of a guideline that could come in the future,” Karan Taurani, vice-president, research at brokerage Elara Capital, said.
In the past, OTTs have been ticked off for excessive use of violence, sex, and abusive language in their shows. Some experts have argued if the film industry can be regulated by a censor board, then why not OTTs, which is an emerging segment. According to a recent report by PwC, India will surpass that of South Korea, Germany and Australia to become the six-largest OTT market by 2024. The report added that India is already the fastest-growing OTT market in the world, expanding at a CAGR of 28.6 per cent.