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Supreme Court issues notice in case to regulate streaming platforms like Netflix

Supreme Court
Credit: Aditi Agrawal

The Supreme Court on Thursday issued notice in a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) wherein petitioners demanded the creation of a regulatory system for online content, including streaming services like Netflix and Hotstar. Bar and Bench first reported the development in a now-deleted tweet. Manju Jetley, who is arguing for the petitioners in the case, confirmed to MediaNama that the Supreme Court issued notice. The petition named the central government, the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, and the Internet and Mobile Association of India as respondents.

This is the second such case in the Supreme Court, and the umpteenth one in courts around the country. The arguments follow in the footsteps of past and ongoing petitions in High Courts: that there is “no law” to regulate online content, that creators are stretching the limits of free speech, and that content that would be denied a theatrical release is accessible online. The petition also argues that online shows depict “anti-Indian” content that disrespects the army (referring to an ALT Balaji show with the scene in question subsequently removed). It also bemoaned that these platforms were making this content available “without any modification for the people of India”.

The petition’s main prayer is the creation of what it calls a Central Board for Regulation and Monitoring of Online Video Contents (CBRMOVC), headed by a government bureaucrat. Apurv Arhatia, one of the two co-petitioners, the other being Shashank Shekhar Jha (both are lawyers), told MediaNama that they would leave the functioning of this organisation to the “discretion” of the Supreme Court. Streaming services had recently announced a Universal Self-Regulation Code to pre-empt exactly this kind of censorship and regulation. We have reached out to IAMAI, under whose aegis the code was deliberated and released, for comment on the petition.

Justice for Rights, an NGO that lost a case in the Delhi High Court seeking guidelines for content on OTT streaming platforms, has an appeal pending at the Supreme Court. High courts have routinely dismissed broad petitions seeking censorship of streaming services. However, the Supreme Court hasn’t addressed the issue nearly as frequently as high courts to provide indicators on its thinking around the issue. The I&B Ministry, while miffed at streaming services’ self-regulation model, said in parliament that it has no jurisdiction over streaming platforms.

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I cover the digital content ecosystem and telecom for MediaNama.

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.

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