New rules make way for self-regulation: I&B ministry secretary
The secretary in the ministry of information and broadcasting, Amit Khare, said on Saturday that the country was for the first time moving from censorship to self-regulation, even as critics have taken on the government for being “authoritarian” with new online media guidelines.
“There will be no authoritarian process,” Khare told Hindustan Times. “The regulation system is accountable to the courts. Any misuse of power can be checked.”
The new rules that will cover over-the-top (OTT) platforms such as Netflix and Hotstar, social media intermediaries such as Facebook and Twitter, and digital news media, were notified by the government on Thursday. The guidelines mandate a three-tier self-regulation system with an authorised official from the I&B ministry at the apex. The official can check non-compliance with the rules and even issue take-down orders under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, which so far only applied to social media intermediaries and government agencies.
Khare said that the rules represented a paradigm shift in policy. “As of now, any movie that goes to the theatre has to be approved by the certification committee, but for these OTT platforms, no such requirement is there,” he said. “The government has left the decision up to them. They can decide what labels to use. The idea is that the viewer should be aware of what they will be watching.”
He stressed that government would in no way alter the content available. “Films only have three categories, while we have provided for five for OTT platforms. The government is willing to consider extending a similar classification for movies released in theatres as well,” Khare said.
According to the official, the concept of censorship itself was undergoing a change across the world. “The government does not want to interfere, we just want to ensure that people don’t experience discomfort when it comes to accessing online media,” he said.
Khare also highlighted how OTT platforms have democratised entertainment. “These rules were debated for over a year-and-a-half. We have also taken a conscious decision to not set up a web portal where grievances can be filed as we wanted to make sure people didn’t think the government was needlessly interfering,” he said. “The people can directly complain to the platform and if the complaint is not resolved by their standards, it can be escalated to the ministry.”
He added that this also provides a safeguard to such OTT platforms as there is an option for civil regulation, and one does not have to tackle FIRs and court cases.
OTT platforms such as Amazon Prime have come under fire for airing content that some said “hurt religious sentiments”, with a number of court cases registered. “This provides an alternative remedy that has to be exhausted before they are challenged in court,” Khare said.