I&B Ministry’s powers to regulate content on TV, other platforms

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I&B Ministry’s powers to regulate content on TV, other platforms

  • On January 31, the Information and Broadcasting Ministry (I&B) informed Media One, a Malayalam-language news channel, through an order that its broadcast licence had been cancelled, citing a Home Ministry order that had denied security clearance to the channel.
  • Following an appeal by channel owner Madhyamam Broadcasting Limited, which is backed by Jamaat-e-Islami, the Kerala High Court granted a stay, allowing the channel to continue functioning.

Sectors regulated by I&B Ministry

  • Until last year, it had the powers to regulate content across all sectors — TV channels, newspapers and magazines, movies in theatres and on TV, and the radio — barring the internet.
  • On February 25, 2021, the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, extended its regulatory powers over internet content too, especially on digital news platforms and OTT platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime or Hotstar.

What kind of powers does it have?

  • On paper, these are limited.
  • How the ministry wields those powers, however, is what gives it a much broader scope of what it wishes to allow on any platform.
  • For example, the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) has a mandate to give any film that will be played in a theatre, a rating indicating the kind of audience it is suitable for. * While it isn’t the CBFC’s mandate to censor a film, it can withhold giving a rating unless the filmmaker agrees to its suggestions.

Regulating content on TV channel

  • When it comes to TV channels, the government last year came up with a three-tier grievance redressal structure for viewers to raise concerns, if any.
  • A viewer can successively approach the channel, then a self-regulatory body of the industry, and finally the I&B Ministry, which can issue a showcause notice to the channel, and then refer the issue to an inter-ministerial committee (IMC).
  • For content on OTT platforms too, there is a similar structure.
  • The ministry has in the past issued orders to temporarily ban news and other channels, including a 48-hour ban on Media One two years ago, along with AsiaNet for their reporting of the Delhi riots.
  • In November 2016, it imposed a one-day ban on NDTV for its reporting of the Pathankot terror attack.
  • The ministry also has the Electronic Media Monitoring Cell, which tracks channels for any violations of the programming and advertising codes mentioned in the Cable TV Network Rules, 1994.
  • Violation can lead to revocation of a channel’s uplinking licence (for sending content to a satellite) or downlinking licence (for broadcasting to viewers through an intermediary).
  • It is these licences of MediaOne that the government revoked.
  • In print, based on the recommendations of the Press Council of India, the government can suspend its advertising to a publication.
  • Also last year’s IT rules allow the I&B Ministry to issue orders to ban websites based on their content.

Kind of content is not allowed

  • There are no specific laws on content allowed or prohibited in print and electronic media, radio, films or OTT platforms.
  • The content on any of these platforms has to follow the free speech rules of the country.
  • Article 19(1) of the Constitution, while protecting the freedom of speech, also lists certain “reasonable restrictions” including content related to the security of the state, friendly relationship with foreign states, public order, decency and morality etc.
  • Action can be taken if any of these restrictions is violated.
  • There have been several instances when cases have been filed against filmmakers, channels etc for other alleged offences such as hurting religious sentiments.

Role of other agencies

  • There is no direct involvement, as the powers to regulate content rest only with the I&B Ministry.
  • However, the ministry relies on inputs from other ministries, as well as intelligence agencies.
  • In case of Media One, its licences were revoked because the Home Ministry had denied it security clearance, which is essential as part of the policy.
  • There is also a new mechanism the I&B Ministry adopts: It has used emergency powers it has under the new IT Rules to block certain YouTube channels and social media accounts based on inputs from intelligence agencies.