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Bangladesh creates license regime for websites and online advertising

Bangladesh’s cabinet has approved a licensing regime for websites and online advertising. Any individual or organization who wants to set up a website will have to get clearance from the country’s yet to be formed National Broadcast Commission. The Commission will also regulate the creation of TV channels, radio stations, and newspapers. Essentially every media organization will now have to register with the government, including individuals (presumably personal blogs).

The country’s cabinet secretary Shafiul Alam said that the Commission will have the power to clamp down on media organizations who breach guidelines that are outlined in the policy. Alam said that the policy would “[uphold] the national history and the spirit of Liberation War”, and would take action against any publication that “distorts national history”.

Publishing anything that is ‘detrimental’ to national integrity or ‘repugnant’ to Bangladesh’s Liberation War is a violation of Bangladesh’s code of conduct for journalists — in fact, avoiding these two slights ranks above ensuring accuracy and fairness in reporting. Like in India, Bangladesh’s constitution makes room for “reasonable restrictions” on freedom of expression, and retaliatory litigation and website blocks of media organizations is getting more frequent.

Over the past few years, Bangladesh has witnessed multiple cases of bloggers and independent journalists being murdered by fundamentalists for writing something deemed against the country or the dominant religion.

Until the Commission is set up, new publications will have to be registered with the country’s information ministry. The commission will also regulate online advertising, and flat rates for ads will be set.

India’s social media policy

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The Government of India is also working on a social media policy, which will monitor anti-national propaganda and attempt to arrest the spread of malicious rumors. Apparently, the government already has a set of dos and don’ts which it now wants to turn into formal guidelines. However, it’s not clear which social media platforms it would be focusing on, if instant messaging platforms like Whatsapp and individual blogs will also be part of it, and what the definition of what the government considers anti-India or anti-national is.

It’s worth noting that back in 2015, barely three weeks after the Supreme Court scrapped Section 66A of the IT Act for being unconstitutional, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) was considering bringing it back in a slightly different avatar. The home ministry had set up a committee to look into how national security concerns could be accommodated in the IT Act, and representatives from the Intelligence Bureau, National Investigation Agency and Delhi Police were part of the committee. This committee was supposed to submit its report within a month’s time, but nothing has been heard since.

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