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Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hotstar, etc. now under scrutiny of Ministry of I&B

Content which is created and distributed in India, is monitored and regulated by the Government through various autonomous bodies. For instance, the Press Council of India (PCI) regulates print media, the News Broadcasters Association (NBA) monitors news channels, the Advertising Standards Council, which is a non-governmental body, keeps in check the advertising industry and the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) is in charge of regulating the public exhibition of films.

However, the content created on online streaming platforms, also known as “Over-The-Top” (OTT) platforms, is exhibited without any regulation or supervision of any governmental body. At present, several video streaming platforms such as Amazon Prime, Hotstar, Netflix, etc. have a viewer base of around 17 crore users forming a booming industry worth Rs. 500 crore in India and this number is expected to rise to Rs. 4000 crores by 2025. 

These online content providers come under the legal framework of the Information Technology Act, 2000 under the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology but unlike print and broadcast media, the content created on these platforms is not being scrutinized up till now. 

However, the President, as per the power vested in him through Article 77(3), passed an order on 9th November 2020 directing the regulation of online and digital media under the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting. This would include the regulation of films, webseries, video or audio content and news or current affairs related content created online. 

These rules were issued under Government of India (Allocation of Business Rules) Three Hundred and Fifty Seventh Amendment Rules, 2020. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting will now be responsible for regulating platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hotstar and other platforms creating news online. The order per se does not mention any platforms however the order’s language is broad and inclusive.

In February 2020, the IAMAI had proposed a self-regulatory code for such platforms that made provisions for imposing penalties, etc. but the government did not support it. Therefore, the action of regulating such platforms can be sought as a necessary step considering the increase in consumption and creation of content on such platforms in recent times. Whether this regulation by Ministry of I&B will impact positively or negatively is yet to be understood, however, one could foresee that the platforms will not have the same liberty as they did before i.e. to say the platforms could have to apply for approval before streaming or publishing the content and the content could be subject to censorship. The consumers on the other hand could now have a redressal forum under the Ministry of I&B which could relieve the Courts to a certain extent.  

The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting will now have to formulate new guidelines, rules or an act to ensure adequate and appropriate regulation since as of now the platforms do not fall under the ambit of any other acts passed by the Ministry of I&B.