In Efforts To Control Media, India Considers Single Law To Supervise All Media

The Union government is considering a super legislation for all traditional and digital media companies so as to ensure a level playing field and to give it an upper hand in controlling and supervising the media on all platforms.  The idea is to have an umbrella law that will cover print and electronic media, digital media, cinema, even so-called over-the-top or OTT platforms such as Netflix and Hotstar, government officials familiar with the matter said.

According to one of the officials, the new law will draw elements from the Cable Television Network Act, Cinematograph Act, Press Council Act, and the new digital media guidelines. “The space is evolving,” added this person. “There is a need for platform-wise self-regulation. But at the same time, the technology is converging, the viewers and readers are converging. Earlier, different platforms were using different technologies, but now increasingly we are seeing them move towards a similar approach.”

The process, however, is still at a discussion stage. Amit Khare, secretary, information and broadcasting (I&B) ministry, did not respond to HT’s request for comments. The new law may have been borne from the realisation that while print media has the Press Council, digital news media does not have a corresponding body.

The I&B ministry has already amended the Cable Television Network Act and proposed draft amendments to the Cinematograph Act to ensure they are not at odds with the new social media and intermediary guidelines and digital media code of ethics, which were notified by the government under the Information Technology Act in February to bring hitherto unregulated digital platforms under a three-tier grievance redressal system.

The new IT guidelines require platforms to appoint grievance redressal officers in case of OTT and digital news media platforms, institute a three-tier mechanism for grievance redressal with an inter-ministerial committee at its apex and give the I&B ministry takedown powers over the content circulated online. The government’s oversight mechanism, however, will also including members from industry bodies such as Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Confederation of Indian Industry and the Press Council. The rules have been challenged in court by several media companies.

To create a balance between the regulation of online and offline platforms, the government on June 17 amended the Cable Television Networks Rules, 1994, to mandate that the earlier ad-hoc structure of self-regulation now be mandated under law, with a similar three-tier structure .

According to an official at the I&B ministry, there are around 900 channels which are already part of a system of self-regulation and the amendment just added builds on that. The amendment, notified in a gazette notification issued on June 17, states that cable TV channels under the programme rules must have self-regulation by broadcasters themselves, regulation by the self-regulating bodies of the broadcasters, and an oversight mechanism by the central government. Broadcasters also have to acknowledge complaints within 24 hours of being filed.

Similarly, amendments have been proposed to the Cinematograph Act, 1952, that will enable the introduction of a broader age-related classification, grant the central government the ability to ask the central board of film certification (CBFC) to re-examine a film, and curb piracy in the industry. The proposed amendments to the Act will introduce an age classification system akin to the one specified under the new intermediary and digital media guidelines. They also grant the government powers to ask the CBFC to re-examine a film on the grounds of national security and threat to public order.

Supreme Court lawyer and co-founder of Cybersaathi, NS Nappinai, said a common legal framework would be a good move “but the government should also be cognisant of existing frameworks and see if a complete overhaul is needed”.

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