Content Regulatory Powers of the I&B Ministry | 08 Feb 2022

For Prelims: Content Regulation, IT Rules, 2021, Over the Top platforms, Social Media, Press, Central Board of Film Certification, Cable TV Network Rules, 1994, Press Council of India, Article 19.

For mains: Government Policies & Interventions, Scientific Innovations & Discoveries, Issues Arising Out of Design & Implementation of Policies, IT & Computers, Content Regulation in India.

Why in News?

Recently, the Information and Broadcasting Ministry (I&B) informed a Malayalam-language news channel that its broadcast licence had been cancelled.

  • The cancellation order cited a Home Ministry order that had denied security clearance to the channel.

Which Sectors Can the I&B Ministry Regulate Content?

What Kind of Powers Does it Have?

  • Films Related:
    • 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.
  • TV Channels & OTT Related:
    • 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 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
    • Morality etc.
  • Action can be taken if any of these restrictions is 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.
    • For Example: In the recent case the 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.
  • The recourse available to anyone whose channel or account has been banned would be to go to the courts.

Source: IE