India’s law and IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, on Thursday, defended the new rules for digital media intermediaries, which are widely being seen as a move to further government censorship of news and OTT content.
Prasad said while India will continue to remain “tolerant” of online content, video streaming services need to be responsible and accountable for their shows and movies.
Last month, India notified the Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, which mandate a three-tier oversight process for publishers of news and online curated content i.e. OTT platforms.
Video streaming or OTT platforms such as Netflix and Hotstar would have to classify their content into categories based on the age of viewers. Besides this, they have to appoint grievance officers to address viewer complaints and liaise with an industry self-regulatory body that would have authority over all such platforms.
The rules mandate a government-appointed inter-departmental committee (IDC), which could order cuts or censor online content based on the complaints it receives. Worryingly, the IDC’s authority overrides those of OTT platforms and their self-regulatory body. It can also take up complaints suo moto, without waiting for the video streaming platforms or their self-regulatory body to resolve those complaints.
The rules come at a time when Amazon Prime had to censor its political web series Tandav owing to complaints about one of the scenes being derogatory towards Hindus.
Earlier this week, the Supreme Court stayed proceedings of all cases in high courts across the country, seeking regulation of content on OTT platforms, including Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Disney+ Hotstar and others. Multiple petitions on the matter are being heard in high courts of Punjab and Haryana, Madhya Pradesh and Allahabad.
A three-judge bench consisting of Justice Chandrachud, Justice MR Shah and Justice Sanjiv Khanna heard further petitions filed by advocate Shashank Shekhar Jha and NGO Justice for Rights Foundation, before deciding to transfer all cases to the apex court.