Scatmag.com

January 2020

WILL THE GOVERNMENT CENSOR OTT?


The government is speaking in divergent voices, on whether it will censor OTT content.


MIB EXPLORING OPTIONS

In October, I&B minister Prakash Javadekar said that there should be some kind of regulation for OTT platforms on the lines of print and electronic media. Shortly thereafter, speaking at the joint TRAI & International Telecommunication Union (ITU) event, I&B secretary Amit Khare said that the regulatory issues arising out of the convergence of technologies need to be addressed.



On Oct 11, the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT), a statutory body under the MIB, held a meeting with 18 OTT platforms, including Netflix, Amazon Prime, Zee5 and Jio.

I&B secretary Amit Khare said that "Norms, selfregulation or any other system of regulations on Online Curated Content that is devised should be implementable, widely acceptable and easily enforceable." Officials in the ministry said it was waiting for the industry to be united on this issue, before it plans any further move.




SELF REG BODY ESTABLISHED

Earlier in 2019, several OTT players joined hands to set up a self-regulatory content code under the aegis of Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) but not everyone in the industry has agreed with it.



MEITY: NO CENSORSHIP

Now, the Ministry Of Electronics & Information Technology (MeitY) has categorically stated that there are no plans to censor online content.

"Government is committed to freedom of speech and expression and privacy of its citizens as enshrined in the constitution of India. Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology has no plans to introduce censorship on the content appearing on online streaming platforms," Minister of state - MeitY told the Rajya Sabha.


PILS FILED IN COURT

Several petitions/Public Interest Litigations (PILs) have been filed against online streaming platforms in Supreme Court & High courts, pushing for penalties & regulation of digital content. These include:

  1. Special leave Petition (SLP) 10927 /2019: Justice for Rights Foundation Vs Union of India in the Supreme Court.
  2. Civil Misc PIL Writ Petition No. 5196 of 2018: Sudesh Kumar Singh Vs Union of India in the Allahabad High Court.
  3. PIL 127/2018: Divya Gontia Vs Union of India in the Bombay High Court (Nagpur Bench),
  4. WP 18801: Maatra Foundation Vs Union of India in the Madhya Pradesh High Court ( Jabalpur Bench),

EXISTING LAWS

It is not entirely true that there are currently no means to censor OTT content.

The Information Technology (IT) Act, 2000 has provisions for removal of objectionable online content.

Section 69A of the Act "empowers Government to block any information generated, transmitted, received, stored or hosted in any Computer Resource in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of the State, friendly relations with foreign states or public order or for preventing incitement to the commission of any cognizable offence relating to above."

Section 79 of the same Act also requires intermediaries (ISPs, WhatsApp, Instagram etc) to disable/ remove unlawful content when informed by the government.

The Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines) Rules, 2011 notified under Section 79 require that "Intermediaries shall observe due diligence while discharging their duties and shall inform the users of computer resources not to host, display, upload, modify, publish, transmit, update or share any information that is blasphemous, obscene, pornographic, paedophilic, invasive of another's privacy, hateful, racially or ethnically objectionable, and unlawful in any way."


BIGGER ISSUE

Censoring OTT content opens the door for an authoritarian state to censor all digital content, including news from the internet. It is primarily for this reason, that free speech activists are opposing any move to censor digital media. n