Framing the legislation, forgetting the transparency

Source: The Hindu

Synopsis: Discussions and transparency indicate trust in the people by an elected government. However, there is little evidence of that in the framing of the IT guidelines.


  • The Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Amendment Bill aimed to regulate the business of lakhs of cable operators, multi-system operators, and broadcasters.
  • The Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, much like the present Government, was clueless about the number of cable operators.
    • Many had sizeable stakes in the real estate business in the country and carried the channels for a price which was at the centre of animosity between the broadcasters and the cable operators.
  • The draft of the proposed Bill was discussed with all stakeholders and spilled over months.
  • Eventually passed by Parliament in 2002, the Cable Television Networks Regulation (Amendment) Act was not a perfect Act and undergone many more amendments.
  • But the changes were the outcome of intense discussions with all stakeholders.

This is a marked departure from the manner in which the new Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 is being pushed through.

Need to regulate digital media:

  • Lack of data: Former Ministry of Information and Broadcasting Minister commented that the Ministry officials had no fix on the number of OTT platforms and users in the country.
  • Increasing user base: There are over 200 million OTT subscribers. There are around 550 million television and smartphone consumers in the country. The figures are expected to double by 2025.
  • No regulation: it’s business along with the entertainment industry had reached ₹1.82 trillion in 2019 and has been projected to cross ₹2.4 trillion by 2022.

Issues with Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021:

  • Firstly, the Government never put up the amendments for public discussion.
    • However, while amending the Press and Registration of Books Act, 1867, the Ministry had put out the draft on its website inviting discussions.
  • Secondly, lesser time to comply.
    • The IT rules came into effect on February 25 with the Government giving digital publishers three months to comply.
  • Thirdly, the Digital News Publishers Association, the Press Trust of India, and now the News Broadcasters Association have moved courts petitioning that the code restricts free speech and exceeds the mandate of the IT Act.
  • Fourth, India has not followed best practices and the new rules are characterised by excessive government overreach. Most countries have set up an enabling architecture for OTT platforms to grow.
    • The EU Audiovisual Media Services Directive, encourages self-regulation and co-regulation among players, with a specific focus on child safety and violence, and hate speech.
    • In the United Kingdom, programming on video-on-demand services is regulated by Ofcom, which not only provides editorial rules but also has specific provisions for protecting those under 18 and the prohibition of content inciting hatred.
    • In the United States, OTT content remains unregulated.
  • Lastly, there is a question about the government’s mandate to control and regulate digital news.
    • There is a question over the formulation of a self-regulating code for digital media by the government, as it makes no sense.

Hence, freedom of expression and public debate should be given adequate importance as they are the heart of the content.

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