Centre asks OTT platforms, TV channels to stop betting site ads

Updated on Oct 04, 2022 04:06 AM IST

Satellite TV and streaming services like Netflix, Hotstar and Amazon Prime Video, and other digital media must immediately stop airing advertisements promoting gambling and betting aimed at the Indian audience, or face penal action, the information and broadcasting ministry said in a stern advisory on Monday.

Experts feel this self regulation code is to circumvent censorship on the OTT platforms.
Experts feel this self regulation code is to circumvent censorship on the OTT platforms.
ByDeeksha Bhardwaj, New Delhi

Satellite TV and streaming services like Netflix, Hotstar and Amazon Prime Video, and other digital media must immediately stop airing advertisements promoting gambling and betting aimed at the Indian audience, or face penal action, the information and broadcasting ministry said in a stern advisory on Monday.

“The Ministry has observed that promotional content and advertisements of betting platforms are still visible on certain news platforms and OTT (over the top) platforms,” the advisory said. Some “online offshore betting platforms have started using news websites as a surrogate product to advertise betting platforms on digital media”, it further observed.

Betting and gambling are illegal in most parts of India. “In accordance with the Paragraph 9 of the Guidelines for Prevention of Misleading Advertisements and Endorsements for Misleading Advertisements 2022 under the Consumer Protection Act, 2019, it has been observed that since betting and gambling is illegal, advertisements of online offshore betting and gambling platforms are prohibited,” the advisory stated.

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Advertisements of betting platforms is an illegal activity and cannot be shown on any digital media, if they were to conform with the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021, the ministry said. For private satellite channels, the ministry invoked provisions of the Advertising Code under Cable TV Network Regulation Act of 1995 as well.

“It is informed (that) advertisements of concerned news websites which are in fact surrogate advertisements for online offshore betting platforms, do not appear to be in strict conformity with these laws,” the advisory said.

Contravention and violation may invite penal action under applicable laws, it warned.

“It had come to the notice of the Government that several sports channels on television, as well as on OTT platforms, have recently been showing advertisements of offshore online betting platforms as well as their surrogate news websites. The Advisories were supplemented with evidences which contained direct and surrogate advertisements of offshore betting platforms such as Fairplay, PariMatch, Betway, Wolf 777, and 1xBet,” the ministry said in a press statement.

The advisory will apply to social media intermediaries as well, as the ministry has sent the letter to such companies too.

The ministry has detected at least 26 such offshore websites, mostly associated with games such as cricket, football, tennis, kabaddi and horse racing, according to people familiar with the matter.

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These use surrogate news platforms or partner with a news content aggregator, or acquire a user base using Telegram groups, they said. Once users download the applications, they can transact on them using the United Payments Interface, as well as other payment getaways. The government has set up a task force to determine which ministry should look into online gambling and betting, they said, seeking anonymity.

“Investigations by the IT department in a similar manner revealed online gambling and betting is organised by various companies under the blanket of an international company,” one of the people said. “The payments are routed through India-based gateways and service providers.”

Vivan Sharan from Koan Advisory, a policy think tank, said Such advertisements promote unsafe betting and gambling, which is prohibited unless explicitly allowed by states. “Advertisements, whether surrogate or direct, are not supposed to promote any activity prohibited by statute or law. The government must strengthen the enforcement of this principle, particularly online – where intermediaries are not licenced, unlike in the case of TV. This will require that the MeitY be given the capability to initiate takedowns, with requisite procedural safeguards,” he said.

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