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1st January 2024 (10 Topics)

Modernizing Broadcasting Regulations: The Centre's Vision for OTT and Digital Media

Context

The new draft Broadcasting Services (Regulation) Bill, 2023, signaling a comprehensive overhaul of the regulatory landscape governing traditional television, digital media, and over-the-top (OTT) platforms.

Purpose: The proposed legislation aims to replace the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, ushering in new regulations for the broadcasting sector.

Background

  • The draft bill expands the regulatory framework to encompass a wide spectrum, ranging from conventional television services to emerging technologies like OTT platforms and digital content.
  • Released for public consultation by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, the bill aims to streamline regulations and provide a unified legal structure for various broadcasting services.

Need for Regulation:

  • The government asserts that the proposed bill is essential to enhance the ease of doing business, ensure compliance with broadcasting codes, and adapt the regulatory framework to meet the evolving needs of the sector.
  • However, concerns have been raised regarding potential threats to freedom of speech and censorship, especially in the context of increased scrutiny over content deemed "obscene and vulgar" in the digital media realm.

Key Provisions of the Bill:

  1. Intimation of Operations:

   - All broadcasting entities, including OTT platforms, must formally register or intimate the government before providing services.

   - Cable and satellite broadcasting operators must register, and broadcasters need approval from the registering authority.

  1. Modern Broadcasting Terminologies:

   - The bill defines key terms such as broadcasting, broadcaster, broadcasting network, broadcasting network operator, internet broadcasting network, and news and current affairs programmes.

  1. Content Quality and Accessibility:

   - Programmes must adhere to Programme Code and Advertisement Code.

   - Broadcasters need to classify their content based on various parameters, prominently displaying the classification to enable informed viewing decisions.

   - Accessibility guidelines are introduced for persons with disabilities, emphasizing measures like audio descriptions, sign language translations, and subtitles.

  1. Self-Regulation:

   - Broadcasters and network operators are required to establish Content Evaluation Committees (CEC) for self-regulation.

   - The proposed three-tier regulatory structure includes self-regulation, self-regulatory organizations, and a Broadcast Advisory Council.

  1. 5. Provision for Inspection and Seizure:

   - The government and authorized officers can inspect broadcasting networks and services.

   - Seizure of equipment is allowed in case of violations, with penalties imposed unless compliance is demonstrated within 30 days.

  1. Penalties for Non-Compliance:

   - Penalties include removal of objectionable content, orders, apologies, off-air periods, and even cancellation of registration.

   - Monetary penalties and imprisonment are prescribed for serious offenses, with the penalty amount based on the entity's financial capacity.

Modern broadcasting terminologies as defined in the Bill

What is broadcasting?

One-to-many transmission of audio, visual or audio-visual programmes using a broadcasting network, intended to be received or made available for viewing, by the general public or by subscribers of the broadcasting network.

A “broadcaster”, meanwhile is a person who provides programming services and has been provided a registration for uplinking or downlinking of programmes, in relation to Radio, OTT and terrestrial broadcasting networks.

What is a broadcasting network?

A system used for the transmission of programmes, including cable broadcasting networks, satellite broadcasting networks, internet broadcasting networks, radio broadcasting networks and terrestrial broadcasting networks.

Who is a broadcasting network operator?

Any person who operates a broadcasting network, and has been granted a registration, licence or permission or who has provided an intimation to provide services using a broadcasting network.

This includes cable operators, multi-system operators, DTH operators, headend-in-the-sky operators, IPTV operators, OTT broadcasting service operators, radio broadcasting service operators, and terrestrial broadcasting network operators.

What is an internet broadcasting network?

A system for the delivery of broadcasting services and programmes using the internet, over a computer resource, or using Internet Protocol, to subscribers or viewers, and includes IPTV and OTT broadcasting services.

What comes under ‘news and current affairs programmes’?

Audio, visual or audio-visual programmes or live programmes, including analysis about recent events primarily of socio-political, economic or cultural nature, and programmes where the context, purpose, import and meaning of such programmes implies so.

What about OTT?

A broadcasting service available on-demand or live to subscribers or users in India, and where a curated catalogue of programmes owned by, licensed to, or contracted to be transmitted, over the internet or a computer resource, not being a closed network; and where additional hardware or software or combination including a set-top-box, or dongle and software keys may be required to access content on non-smart televisions or viewing devices.

Main Concerns:

  • The bill's broad scope, especially its application to both traditional broadcasters and the evolving OTT space, has garnered mixed reactions.
  • Concerns include potential overreach, increased censorship, and the impact on freedom of expression in the digital space.
  • Digital rights organizations emphasize the need for a cautious examination of the bill, particularly in terms of potential self-censorship and executive control over OTT content.

While the draft Broadcasting Services (Regulation) Bill seeks to modernize and unify regulations for broadcasting services in India, concerns persist regarding its potential impact on freedom of expression and the dynamic nature of the digital space.

Striking a balance between regulatory measures and safeguarding creative expression will be crucial as the bill progresses through consultations and potential revisions.

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