Freedom of Speech – Defamation, Sedition, etc.

Information and Broadcasting Ministry’s powers to regulate content on TV

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Information and Broadcasting Ministry

Mains level : Regulation of news channels

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.

Sectors regulated by I&B Ministry

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

What kind of powers does it have?

(a) Film Censoring

  • 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.
  • 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.

(b) TV Censoring

  • 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, can issue a show-cause notice to the channel,.
  • It can then refer the issue to an inter-ministerial committee (IMC).

(c) OTT and other platforms

  • For content on OTT platforms too, there is a similar structure.

Power to Ban news channels

  • It has in the past issued orders to temporarily ban news and other channels.
  • In November 2016, it imposed a one-day ban on NDTV for its reporting of the Pathankot terror attack.
  • Violation can lead to revocation of a channel’s uplinking license (for sending content to a satellite) or downlinking license (for broadcasting to viewers through an intermediary).
  • 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 allow 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) while protecting the freedom of speech, also lists certain “reasonable restrictions” including content related to the security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency, morality, etc.
  • Action can be taken if any of these restrictions are violated.

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 the recent case, its licenses 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.

 

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