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Indian Government Extends Consultation Deadline for Draft Broadcasting Bill to January 15th, 2024

The extension also followed an open letter signed by over 300 civil society organisations and individuals to the Indian government requesting an extension by at least another 30 days.

The Indian government has extended the deadline for receiving public comments on the controversial Draft Broadcasting Services (Regulation) Bill, 2023 to January 15th, 2024. The public consultations were previously set to close by December 9th. Feedback on the law can be emailed to jsb-moib@gov.in.

About the controversial law: Set to replace the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995, the draft bill, released on November 10th, will regulate different broadcasting services under a single law, including over-the-top (OTT) broadcasting or streaming services like Netflix, Disney+Hotstar, and Amazon Prime.

It proposes that these services will only broadcast content approved by in-house content evaluation committees (unless the content is exempted by the government), raising concerns of it widening the government’s censorship net over broadcasting services, at the cost of free speech and expression online. Additionally, any person broadcasting news through online papers, news portals, social media platforms, or other mediums will have to abide by the bill’s yet-to-be-prescribed Programmed Code and Advertising Code, potentially bringing ordinary users under the bill’s scope.

Civil society groups write to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting seeking extension: The extension also followed an open letter signed by over 300 civil society organisations and individuals to the Indian government requesting an extension by at least another 30 days. A full version can be found at the Alternative Law Forum’s website.

The organisations requested the government to conduct the consultation in line with the 2014 Pre-Legislative Consultation Policy, which sets out guidelines for transparent and inclusive public consultations on draft laws.

“This is particularly crucial given the wide scope and far reaching ramifications of the Bill on free speech and access to information,” the letter observed. “Therefore it is important that the Bill be provided with wide publicity on different media platforms and along with it the Ministry [of Information and Broadcasting] must undertake open houses and in person public consultations on the Bill with affected stakeholders.”

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The letter added that stakeholders need more time to study the lengthy bill and its potential impacts on Indian society. The Pre-Legislative Consultation Policy further mandates a minimum period of 30 days for consultations, which can be extended if needed. The signatories further demanded that the Bill be published in all Scheduled languages under the Constitution of India.

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