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Govt considers a new law to oversee news on TV and digital platforms

New Delhi: The Narendra Modi government is contemplating a new, common legislation to oversee digital news platforms and television news channels on the lines of the Press Council Act that governs print news publications, ThePrint has learnt.

According to senior government officials, the framework may also be expanded to cover non-news television channels, as well as films and series streamed on OTT platforms.

There are currently no legislative provisions governing online news or video streaming platforms. For TV news channels, self-regulation or industry oversight is largely the case, although the government can take action under the Cable TV Act for violations of the Programme and Advertising Code.

The officials described the government’s plans as “fluid” at this stage, but noted that they had received several complaints about “fake news” on digital news platforms, and the content streamed on OTT platforms.

The Ministry of Information & Broadcasting is currently preparing to issue guidelines for content streamed on OTT platforms, but officials said the eventual plan is to have a separate legislative framework for online and electronic media. It is not clear yet if the proposed legislation will cover radio too.

“The details are being discussed at present and this would be the way forward, subject to approvals from all levels,” a senior government official said.

A second official said the plan to bring all online content and content on media — which is “partially regulated by self-regulatory platforms” — under one umbrella was meant to address the complaints received.

The plan, the official added, will also ensure that print media continues to function under the Press Council of India (PCI) Act 1978. The PCI — an autonomous, statutory, quasi-judicial body that serves as a watchdog for newspapers and news agencies, with power to censure outlets for violations — has time and again proposed to the government that a common PCI-like media council be set up to regulate all media platforms.

The official, however, stressed that the idea is still fluid and discussions are underway over the exact details of the legislative framework.

ThePrint reached the I&B ministry spokesperson with queries about the proposed common legislation for online and TV media — including whether such a proposal was under consideration — but the spokesperson declined to comment.

Content guidelines in the works
Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar told the Rajya Sabha Tuesday that the “guidelines and directions” for OTT platforms are nearly ready and will be implemented soon.

The guidelines are broadly likely to be on the lines of the existing programme code for private satellite channels. It is not known at present whether they would apply to online news.

The Ministry of Information & Broadcasting had brought digital news portals and OTT platforms under its purview last year.

However, government officials told ThePrint that action against code violations by digital news websites or OTT platforms will have to be taken by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology since they employ the internet. The action, they said, is likely to be on the recommendation of the I&B ministry.

Current regulations
Digital news platforms do not come under any regulatory framework at present.

For news channels, meanwhile, there are industry bodies such as the News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA) and News Broadcasters Association.

However, not all private satellite channels are members of these self-regulatory bodies.

Television channels are mandated to follow the programme code under the Cable TV Network Rules, 1994.

From the government’s side, aberrations, if any, are looked at by the Electronic Media Monitoring Centre — a media unit under the I&B ministry — suo motu or on complaints forwarded by the ministry. In specific cases, an inter-ministerial committee recommends action to be taken on a channel that varies depending on the extent of the violation.

Like digital news platforms, content streamed by video streaming platforms is also not regulated at present.

However, industry body Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) Thursday announced an “Implementation Toolkit” for the self-regulation code signed in September last year by 17 OTT companies.

The document is aimed at providing greater transparency and a road map to the signatories, and also addresses the issues raised by the government over the self-regulatory code.

The Broadcasting Content Complaints Council (BCCC) under the industry body Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) looks at non-news and general entertainment channels for any content violations. The Print

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