On the Broadcast Bill and its impact on online streaming

I was on an excellent panel discussion a couple of days ago organised by CCAOI, about India’s Broadcast Bill which seeks to change the way online streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video are regulated, and create a framework for regulating online news in India.

The Bill is regressive and will restrict freedom on speech both in online video and online news, especially forcing content platforms and news publishers to create an internal body for censorship content before it’s made available to the public. It seeks to regulate online content in public interest which is an unreasonable and unconstitutional restriction on freedom of speech.

A few things to note…

  1. The Broadcast Bill exists because there is a need by the government to legitimise the regulation of streaming services that was included in the IT Rules 2021, which are illegal and not backed by law. This is probably to address court cases against the IT Rules that challenge their legality because the IT Act doesn’t enable such regulation of online streaming.
  2. MIB wants to ensure that it retains all jurisdiction over streaming services and online news, and other government departments like the Ministry of Health don’t start creating their own regulations. There was also a version of the Telecom Bill wherein the department of Telecom tried to take over jurisdiction of online streaming
  3. The Broadcast Bill will end up replacing the existing regulatory framework for online news and streaming
  4. Online streaming is not broadcast. It is private viewing on personal devices, and content is pulled by the user. This is censorship of private video consumption, and there’s no valid reason for this regulation.
  5. Content Evaluation Committees will act as private censors within media companies, and will apply to online news.
  6. There are 67 areas for which rules will be made. The Bill gives the executive disproportionate freedom to make rules. Expect regular rule creation from MIB if this Bill is passed. We’re seeing this with the Data Protection Bill as well, and will see it with the Digital India Act
  7. Expect fewer documentaries about India to be released in India once this passes, because documentaries will be screened for how they represent facts/India
  8. The usage of the phrase “Public Interest” for restriction of content is unconstitutional. It’s not a restriction to free speech under the Constitution of India
  9. The Bill is lazily worded. It expands several provisions for broadcast creative content to news content.
  10. We’re seeing overreach and censorship coming from “Self Regulatory Organisations” already in place, even though the IT Rules don’t require enable such censorship.
  11. Try applying a broadcast censorship code to online streaming and so many of your favourite shows will become unwatchable because of the nanny state.