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Javadekar fields questions on regulation of content on OTT platforms in Lok Sabha

New Delhi: Sidestepping a direct question from over 20 MPs in Lok Sabha on whether it was “aware of the facts that content/ web series” aired on Over-the-Top (OTT) platforms were “full of sex, violence, abuse, vulgarity” and disrespect religious sentiments, Minister of Information and Broadcasting Prakash Javadekar responded saying the Central government amended the Allocation of Business Rules through a notification in November 2020 to bring the subject relating to content of news and current affairs and audio-visual content on online platforms under it.

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Members from various parties had also specifically asked about the current procedure and penalty under law for violation of religious sentiments by OTT platforms and whether the government had rejected the self-regulation guidelines developed by OTT platforms and streaming services. It was also asked if there was any proposal to bring in new regulation laws or constitute a regulatory authority for censoring OTT platforms in order to address the issue of sensitive, objectionable, vulgarity, obscene and fake video content.

Incidentally, the issue of content on OTT platforms was in the news in January this year after a FIR was registered against the Amazon series Tandav for allegedly hurting religious sentiments.

Replying to the unstarred question, Javadekar said there were “about 40 Over-the-Top (OTT) platforms presently operating in the country”. He clubbed the answers to the various points and stated that “the government has received several grievances/complaints regarding content of programmes on OTT platforms. The Government also has held several consultations with the OTT players, including with the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) impressing upon them the need for having an appropriate self-regulatory mechanism for content over OTT platforms.”

In pursuance of this, he said, in August 2020, the IAMAI informed the ministry that a self-regulatory mechanism had been developed for the OTT platforms. However, the minister said, “on examination it was felt that the mechanism proposed by IAMAI did not give adequate cognizance to content prohibited under law and there were issues of conflict of interest, which were communicated to IAMAI in September, 2020″.

Thereafter, he said, the Central government, through a notification on November 9, also amended the Allocation of Business Rules and the subject relating to content of news and current affairs and audio-visual content on online platforms has been brought in the mandate of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.

To another question from former Union Minister of Information and Broadcasting and Congress MP Manish Tewari on the “regulatory architecture that the Government intends to put in place to administer, monitor and police these entities” and if social media platforms have not been included within the ambit of the November 9 notification with regard to regulation of digital platforms, Javadekar gave a similar response.

However, in addition to the points in the reply to the 21 MP, he said, “Well defined legislations and institutional mechanisms (including self-regulatory mechanisms) exist in respect of each media platform viz. Press Council Act, 1978 for print media, the Cable Television Network (Regulation Act, 1995 for electronic media and Information Technology Act, 2000 for digital media.” He added that “each media platform is unique in its nature and has its own peculiarities”. The Wire

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