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Supreme Court stays OTT regulation proceedings in various High Courts

Last month, the top court had issued notice on this petition moved jointly by the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, Electronics and Information Technology and the Ministry of Law and Justice.
The order was passed on a petition moved by the Centre seeking transfer of all petitions to regulate OTTs from various High Courts to Supreme Court.
Published on Mar 23, 2021 11:45 PM IST
ByAbraham Thomas, New Delhi

The Supreme Court on Tuesday restrained High Courts from hearing petitions to regulate content of releases on over-the-top platforms such as Amazon Prime, Netflix, Hotstar and Zee5.

On Tuesday, a three-judge bench headed by Justice DY Chandrachud stayed proceedings in separate petitions pending in this regard before the Punjab & Haryana High Court, Madhya Pradesh High Court and Allahabad High Court. The bench, also comprising Justices MR Shah and Sanjiv Khanna pointed out that about 20 petitions are pending in other High Courts as well following which the top court applied the stay order to such other High Courts where a similar issue is pending.

The order was passed on a petition moved by the Centre seeking transfer of all petitions to regulate OTTs from various High Courts to Supreme Court. Last month, the top court had issued notice on this petition moved jointly by the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, Electronics and Information Technology and the Ministry of Law and Justice.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta appearing for the Centre pointed out that despite notice on the transfer petition, the Punjab and Haryana High Court was continuing to hear the petition. He requested the Court to stay the proceedings before the respective High Courts.

Along with Centre’s plea, the bench took up two PILs filed separately by NGO Justice for Rights Foundation and advocate Shashank Shekhar Jha. The petitions had demanded an autonomous body much on the lines of Censor Board to screen, filter and regulate content shown on OTT platforms.

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In response to one of these petitions, the Centre submitted an affidavit indicating the legal position governing OTT platforms. “There is a mechanism for regulation of the OTT Platforms under the provisions of the Information Technology Act, 2000 and the newly framed Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021 notified on February 25, 2021.”

The Centre informed the Court that it received complaints of members of civil society, Parliamentarians and Chief Ministers on the content streamed by OTT platforms and the need to regulate the same. The IT Rules 2021 now provide for an oversight mechanism and a self-regulatory body, the affidavit filed by Information Technology Ministry stated. With the mechanism already been put in place, the Centre demanded dismissal of the petitions which were filed prior in time to the 2021 Rules.

Even the 2021 Rules are under scrutiny in a separate proceeding before the Supreme Court. Early this month, the Supreme Court had termed the 2021 IT Rules on OTT Platforms to “lack teeth” as it contained no penal provision for enforcing its implementation. The matter is pending consideration as the Centre expressed its willingness to revise the Rules.

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