OTT Media regulation

Context: The government is bringing online news and current affairs portals along with “films and audio-visual programmes made available by online content providers” under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.

Analyse the problems with this step.

  • This is an attack on the free press:
  • It is targeted at a section that has been bold and forthright in speaking truth to power.
  • This move has been criticised as it is set out to make the media institutionally captive.
  • It is clubbing the only sector of the media which has pre-censorship, namely films (through the Central Board of Film Certification).
  • The news media which has so far, not been subject to pre-censorship, although media practitioners know the grave post publication consequences of airing news or views critical or adversarial to the government.
  • Regulation leading to censorship:
    • The reason given by the government for this annexation of the digital media by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting is that the self-regulation proposals given by the sector were not satisfactory.
    • It hijacks another public interest litigation in the Supreme Court relating to content on “Over the Top” (OTT) platforms not being subject to official oversight.
  • Arms the executive: It neatly hijacks matter before the Supreme Court of India relating to freedom of the press and freedom of expression to arm the executive with control over the free press, thereby essentially making it unfree.
  • The instant case is that relating to Sudarshan News, in which hate speech is being disingenuously sought to be passed off as freedom of the press.
  • Divide and rule strategy: It seeks to divide and rule the press by creating an artificial distinction between the new-age digital media which is the media of the future, the media of the millennial generation and the older print and TV news media.
  • There is no comparison between the Press Council of India and the NBA as professional bodies on the one hand and the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting on the other.
  • Fate of digital media: The fate of the digital media under the control of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting leaves little scope for hope for both the media practitioner and the media entrepreneur and for the start-ups that have been the new vibrant face of contemporary journalism.

Way forward

  • This move must be seen for what it is politically and morally decrepit and must be legally challenged as unconstitutional and autocratic.
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