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SC issues notice to Centre on PIL seeking regulation of content on OTT platforms

The PIL has sought directions to the government for constituting an autonomous body or a board to monitor and filter content on various OTT platforms. 

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New Delhi: The Supreme Court Thursday issued a notice to the central government and the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IMAI) in a petition to regulate over-the-top (OTT) platforms such as Netflix and Amazon Prime by an autonomous body.

A bench led by Chief Justice of India (CJI) S.A. Bobde was hearing a PIL filed by advocate Shashank Shekhar Jha, seeking directions to the government to constitute an autonomous body or a board for monitoring and filtering content as well as regulating videos on various OTT platforms in India.

Speaking to ThePrint, Jha said that although 15 OTT platforms have signed a self-regulatory code, it was not in the same format as has been suggested by the central government.

“Self-regulatory mechanisms cannot work for OTTs. There is a need for a body to monitor the content uploaded on these platforms,” he added.

Jha also said digital media platforms have given a way out to filmmakers and artists to release their content without worrying about getting clearance certificates for their films and series from the censor board, particularly during the pandemic when theatres have remained closed.

“That the petition pertains to the requirement of a board/association/institution for monitoring, management and regularising of OTT/streaming and digital media platforms across India and of absence of any law or autonomous body governing the digital content have made these digital contents available to the public at large without any filter or screening,” stated his petition.

Also read: Indians enjoy Netflix at third cheapest rates across world, but with poor internet speed

‘Abuse of fundamental rights of expression’

Jha’s petition also said the Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) was supposed to issue a negative list — a list of “non-negotiable prohibited content” to OTT/streaming service providers by the end of 2019.

The MIB had earlier also urged these platforms to form a self-regulatory body, giving them a window of 100 days to come up with a mechanism to deal with adult and political content. While the IMAI had pushed for a self-regulatory code for its 294 members, they did not opt for it, stated the petition.

Jha’s plea also said the streaming platforms had skipped IMAI’s flagship India Digital Summit that was held on 5 February. The event was attended by just five signatories. Those who did not participate had recorded their objection to the self-regulatory code.

Eventually, only 15 platforms signed on the self-regulatory code, which, according to Jha, is not in conformity with the central government’s guidelines.

His petition also said the issue of regulation pertains to the abuse of fundamental rights of expression under Article 19 by the OTTs. Such an abuse, it added, also infringes on the right to life of people under Article 21 of the Constitution.

“These unregulated portals are putting everything without any moderation and common people in India are watching the same at their houses which could ultimately lead to various problems in coming future,” Jha has submitted in his plea.

Also read: ‘No Rules Rules’ – inside story of how an unsentimental man built Netflix, conquered the world


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