MIB to regulate OTT, online news portals’ content – Industry has mixed reactions

As per a Cabinet Secretariat notification, online news and current affairs portals as well as online content providers have been brought under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB). The notification, which was signed by the President of India, was issued on Monday.

The notification stated, “In the Government of India (Allocation of Business) Rules, 1961, in The Second Schedule, under the heading ‘Ministry of Information and Broadcasting’ (Soochana Aur Prasaran Mantralaya) after entry 22, the following sub-heading and entries shall be inserted, namely:

Also read:  MIB to regulate OTT, online news portals’ content

VA Digital/ Online Media

22A. Films and Audio-Visual programmes made available by online content providers

22B. News and current affairs content on online platforms.”

Currently, digital and online media is not regulated by any law or independent or government body, whereas there are autonomous bodies that look after other media such as advertising (Advertising Standards Council of India), news broadcasters (News Broadcasters Association), and print media (Press Council of India).

It may be recalled that in September this year, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) had stated that no regulatory interventions were required in respect of issues related with Privacy and security of OTT services at the moment.

A month later in October, the Supreme Court, while hearing a PIL for setting up an independent body for regulating content on video streaming platforms, sought the centre’s response and issued notices to the centre, MIB and the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI).

Following this development, Adgully reached out to cross-section of the digital media industry to gauge their reactions to the Government move as well as to know about the implications of bringing digital content under the ambit of the MIB. Several wanted to study the Government decision first and hence, said that it was too early to react. Most industry leaders that Adgully reached out to, saw it as a step in the right direction, but also strongly vouched for self-regulation. Here’s what they had to say...

Industry Speak

N Chandramouli, CEO, TRA Research:

“When any sector comes under regulation, it becomes a limitation for that sector, but much depends on the heavy or light nature of the regulatory authority, which in turn depends on the type of authority that exists at that particular point in time. This can limit the type of content that is allowed, and anything that does not appeal to the existing authority may be censored. I am in favour of a Self-Regulatory-Authority or SRA, which is an independent body of industry professionals who take action against any unwarranted content of the type that ASCI is. OTT is becoming the dominant access to content, and it is important that no government body alone prescribes which content should be shown. It not only limits creative freedom, which in turn affects audience engagement with the OTT platform, but regulatory decisions can be subjective and controversial.”

Karan Bedi, CEO, MX Player:

“We look forward to working with the Ministry to implement our industry’s self-regulation efforts. As responsible content creators, we want to ensure this act not only takes cognizance of the nature of content being released, but also ensures that we safeguard creativity in this rapidly growing sector.”

Karan Taurani, VP - Research Analyst (Media & Consumer Discretionary), Elara Capital:

“We believe the above news may not lead to censorship of content on digital; however, the Ministry may be forming some framework for regulating the OTT space. This is a mild positive for broadcasters, as the TV segment in India is highly regulated (pricing, content, license, advertising) vs OTT, which has no regulation until now. Again, this would not mean discouraging global OTT giants to invest or impact OTT negatively in a big way; however, it’s a good starting point to create some sort of level playing field between traditional and digital media.”

Sanjay Trehan, Digital & New Media Consultant:

“In the current context, it is a step in the right direction. While any kind of regulation from the top goes against the grain of the Internet as in its wild jungles millions of weeds grow, in the environment of mushrooming of fake news and unbridled virality of social media, it is important to sift the kernel from the chaff.

Self-regulation by content providers is the first step, of course. However, overseeing by a regulatory body would help in reining in fake news, restore credibility of content, especially news content, protect consumer privacy and integrity of data, and put the fear of law in serial violators.

It may be a good idea if a body of industry experts is constituted by the MIB to advise them and help steer this initiative in a seamless and progressive manner.”

Heeru Dingra, CEO, WATConsult:

"2020 has been a year full of changes, to say the least, and while we are approaching closer to welcoming 2021, this news coming in from the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting has introduced another one. Regulating anything is almost always beneficial, so these new guidelines and regulations might prove detrimental in helping the OTT industry grow. However, OTT and video streaming platforms are still at a very nascent stage, especially in India, which makes it highly crucial that these guidelines not infringe on their organic progress and their core values. As long as content creators and digital platforms can practice their full imaginative and creative potentials, the new regulations will only add value."

Lloyd Mathias, Business Strategist and Angel Investor:

“While one understands the concerns about leaving OTT and online platforms unregulated, it is not clear how this will work. The COVID-19 pandemic has boosted the growth of OTT and online news consumption in the country with massive investments from global players like Netflix, Hotstar, and Amazon Prime. But there is a fear that the Government’s move with today’s notification to regulate OTT and Online News Sites under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting may hinder growth and innovation impacting creativity, user freedom of choice.”



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