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March 2019

COURT REJECTS PIL FOR OTT REGULATION



On 8 February 2019, the Delhi High Court has dismissed a Public Interest Petition (PIL) that sought for framing of guidelines for the working of OTT platforms like Hotsar, Netflix & Amazon Prime Video.


THE PIL

The PIL was filed by an NGO called "Justice for Rights Foundation."

The NGO's lawyer Harpreet Hora explained to the press that the NGO's its petition dealt with not just content but also licensing, regulation and certification of OTT platforms. "Our basic contention is that if somebody is doing business in my country, they should be licensed or regulated."

The PIL claimed that OTT platforms show "uncertified, sexually explicit and vulgar" content that is not suitable for public viewing. It pointed out that shows like Sacred Games, Game of Thrones and Spartacus contained vulgar, profane, sexually explicit, pornographic, morally unethical and virulent content which often objectified women.

The NGO wanted the court to get the ministries to frame guidelines for the platforms and their content and also censor such restricted content.

The petitioner's argument was that non-regulation enabled platforms to stream content full of "vulgarity, religiously forbidden and morally unethical" content.

It asked for direction from the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, and the Ministry of Telecom to frame guidelines to regulate the platforms and the content they broadcasted.



POLICE COMPLAINT TOO

The PIL was filed in October 2018 and alleged that online streaming platforms also violated the Indian Penal code (IPC) and the Information Technology Act, and wanted "legally restricted" content removed with immediate effect.

The NGO had also filed a police complaint.


EARLIER CASE

In December 2018, the Ministry of Electronics, Information and Technology (MeitY) told the Delhi High Court that the ministry cannot ask Netflix to remove the alleged objectionable reference to former PM Rajiv Gandhi in the Sacred Games series, citing freedom of expression from the Indian Constitution. In that petition, advocate Nikhil Bhalla had requested the court to issue guidelines for regulating OTT providers and set up a grievance redressal mechanism for platforms in India.


IAMAI'S SELF REGULATION

In January 2019, the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) drafted a code of self-regulation for video streaming OTT platforms. Called 'Code of Best Practices for Online Curated Content Providers' disallows OTT platforms from streaming content which:

 Is banned by Indian courts

 Disrespects the national emblem

 Outrages religious sentiments

 Promotes violence against the state or terrorism

 Sexual acts by children


MEITY WANTS TRACEABILITY

Even while these cases have been heard, MeitY has framed new rules for intermediaries which deal with traceability, handing information, registration, pulling down unlawful content etc.

MeitY's demands have been opposed by international companies who point out that these proposed rules threaten free speech and impose severe restrictions.


THE VERDICT: ITS NOT A PIL

During the earlier hearings of the case, the court had made it clear that it was not issuing notice on the petition by NGO Justice for Rights Foundation but was only seeking the government's response whether the alleged broadcasting on the online platforms is based on any licence or regulatory measures provided by government or any regulatory body.

Central government standing counsel Vikram Jetly told the court that currently, online platforms are not required to obtain any licence from ministries.

The Delhi High Court bench of Chief Justice Rajendra Menon & Justice V K Rao rejected the petition, stating that this was not a public interest case. n