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

  • Category
    Polity & Governance
  • Published
    16th Feb, 2022

Context

Order issued by the Information and Broadcasting Ministry on 31st January, 2022, stated that it had barred transmission of a Malayali News Channel.

Background

  • Malayali news channel named Media One was ordered to stop its transmission by Information and Broadcasting Ministry.
  • By an order dated 31st January, 2022, the Union I&B Ministry cancelled the broadcasting rights of Media One.
  • Union I&B Ministry said that the above order was passed by it because the Union Home Ministry had denied security clearance to the news channel.

Analysis

I&B Ministry can regulate the content of which all sectors? and how?

  • Originally the Union I&B Ministry had the power to regulate contents of TV channels, newspapers, magazines, radio and movies in theatres and TV.
  • After the implementation of Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, the regulatory powers of I&B Ministry was extended to internet content also, especially on digital news platforms and Over The Top (OTT) platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime etc.

In January 2021, Tandav on Amazon Prime became the first show on an OTT platform to edit out scenes after direct intervention of I&B Ministry.

This was done after complaints that certain scenes hurt religious and caste sentiments were received.

  • The Union Ministry of I&B in the case of Media One barred its transmission after the security clearance of the media house was withdrawn by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs.

According to the guidelines of the new Rules mentioned above- once a channel is granted security clearance by Union Ministry of Home Affairs, it will be valid for 10 years. But it adds that this can be terminated by the Union Home Ministry at any time within the period.

Reasonable opportunity has to be given to the media organisation before termination of security clearance by the Ministry of Home Affairs.

  • The Union I&B Ministry, under the guidelines of the New Rules, can use its emergency powers to block certain YouTube channels and social media accounts based on inputs from intelligence agencies.

In December 2021 and January 2022, the I&B Ministry issued orders to YouTube, Facebook. Instagram, twitter etc., to ban over 60 channels and social media accounts, based on inputs from intelligence agencies.

Apurva Chandra, I&B Secretary, had said in January, 2022 that these Pakistan-based channels were banned for their anti-India content.

  • These IT rules also allow the I&B Ministry to ban websites based on their content.
  • The Union I&B Ministry also consists of the Electronic Media Monitoring Cell which keeps tracks on channels for any violations of the programming and advertising codes mentioned in the Cable TV Network Rules, 1994.

What 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” on this right.

    Reasonable restrictions under Article 19 (2) of the Indian Constitution can be imposed on Freedom of Expression to protect -

    • Sovereignty and integrity of India
    • Security of the State
    • India’s friendly relations with foreign states
    • Public order
    • Decency and Morality

    The restrictions under Article 19 (2) of the Indian Constitution can also be imposed on Freedom of Expression for –

    • Punishing contempt of court or avoiding it
    • Avoiding the instances of defamation or incitement to an offence or punishing the same.

    What Next?

    The owner of the news channel i.e. Madhyamam Broadcasting Limited, has petitioned the Kerala Order for injunction against the above order of I&B Ministry. The High Court of Kerala has granted stay on the order of Union I&B Ministry and allowed the news channel to continue till further decree.

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