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I&B Ministry’s Powers to Regulate Content on TV

Context:

The Kerala High Court will pronounce its judgment on an Information and Broadcasting Ministry (I&B) order banning a Malayalam news channel over its connections with radical groups.

Relevance:

GS II- Government Policies and Interventions

Dimensions of this Article:
  1. In which sectors can the I&B Ministry regulate content?
  2. What kind of powers does it have?
  3. What kind of content is not allowed?
  4. Do other agencies play a role?

In which sectors can the I&B Ministry regulate content?

  • 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?

Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) 
  • It 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.
  • In practice, however, the CBFC has often suggested changes or cuts to a film before giving it a certification. 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.
TV Channels:
  • 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 show cause 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 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 (Malayalam-language news channel) that the government revoked.
Print Media and Website Related:
  • In print, based on the recommendations of the Press Council of India, the government can suspend its advertising to a publication.
  • And last year’s IT rules allowed the I&B Ministry to issue orders to ban websites based on their content.

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” 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.
    • In January 2021, Tandav on Amazon Prime became the first show on an OTT platform to edit out scenes after direct intervention by the I&B Ministry.
    •  After complaints that certain scenes hurt religious and caste sentiments, the government called a meeting with the show’s makers. This happened when the new IT Rules were still a month away from being issued.

Do other agencies play a role?

  • 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 of Media One’s case, 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.

-Source: Indian Express

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