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I&B Ministry gets administrative authority over streaming services and digital news platforms

The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting now has authority over streaming platforms and online news. The cabinet secretariat notified TV shows, films and news published online under the I&B Ministry’s remit on September 9. The Allocation of Business Rules has now explicitly handed over oversight of news, movies, and TV shows streamed online to the I&B Ministry, giving the ministry the legal basis to pursue regulation — and potentially censorship — of online content. These new rules appear to leave jurisdiction over user-generated content, such as that on social media, with the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology.

Here are the additions to the Allocation of Business to the I&B Ministry:

22A. Films and Audio-Visual programmes made available by online content providers.
22B. News and current affairs content on online platforms.

The I&B Secretary signalled this change in July, and it has now finally happened. Previously, the ministry technically only had jurisdiction over content on television and radio content, but streaming services were already liaising with it as though it was the appropriate arm of the government for content regulation. The ministry declined to support a self-regulatory streaming code put out by many of the largest so-called curated content providers like Netflix, Hotstar, Zee5 and Sony LIV. Even as those discussions were underway, the ministry said flatly that it had no jurisdiction over such platforms in a parliamentary response. Now that the rules of business explicitly designate the I&B Ministry for this content, it may push for stricter rules, whether that comes from its own rulemaking or through self-regulation adopted by streaming services.

As for digital news, the government most recently pushed for regulation of news appearing online in a Supreme Court affidavit in a case where it was pulled up for not doing anything to prevent an inflammatory news presenter on a news channel from hosting an inflammatory show against Muslims. Subsequently, right wing and conservative online publishers formed the Indian Digital Media Association, and eleven digital news publishers formed the DIGIPUB News India Foundation.

We have reached out to the Secretary of the I&B Ministry to comment on what the ministry will do with its expanded jurisdiction.

Correction (6:30pm): While the Government of India (Allocation of Business) Three Hundred and Fifty Seventh Amendment Rules, 2020 give the I&B Ministry authority over streaming content, they do not yet have jurisdiction in the absence of specific laws. We have clarified the language as needed, and apologise for the error.

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