Media One case: I&B Ministry’s Powers to Regulate Content

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    In News

    • The Information and Broadcasting Ministry (I&B) informed Media One, a Malayalam-language news channel, through an order that its broadcast license had been canceled.
      • The cancellation order cited a Home Ministry order that had denied security clearance to the channel.

    About

    • Until last year the I&B Ministry had the powers to regulate content across all sectors: TV channels, newspapers and magazines, movies in theaters and on TV, and the radio barring the internet.
    • The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, extended its regulatory powers over internet content too, especially on digital news platforms and OTT platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime or Hotstar.
    • In Media One’s case, its licenses were revoked because the Home Ministry had denied it security clearance, which is essential as part of the policy.

    Powers

    • The Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) has a mandate to give any film that will be played in a theater, a rating indicating the kind of audience it is suitable for.
    • When it comes to TV channels, the government last year came up with a three-tier grievance redressal structure for viewers to raise concerns, if any.
    • A viewer can successively approach the channel, then a self-regulatory body of the industry, and finally the I&B Ministry, which can issue a show cause notice to the channel, and then refer the issue to an inter-ministerial committee (IMC).
      • For content on OTT platforms too, there is a similar structure.
    • The ministry also has the Electronic Media Monitoring Cell, which tracks channels for any violations of the programming and advertising codes mentioned in the Cable TV Network Rules, 1994.
      • Violation can lead to revocation of a channel’s uplinking license (for sending content to a satellite) or downlinking license (for broadcasting to viewers through an intermediary).
      • It is these licenses of MediaOne that the government revoked.
    • In print, based on the recommendations of the Press Council of India, the government can suspend its advertising to a publication.
    • IT rules also allows the I&B Ministry to issue orders to ban websites based on their content.

    Press and Registration of Books Act of 1867

    • A decidedly colonial legislation that requires the registration and identification of the publishers, editors and printers of newspapers, to hold them liable for any violations under the law.
    • This law played its part in the broader attempt to surveil the different forms of knowledge dissemination in the country.
    • It allowed for better control over the press and book publishing industries, and in restricting speech.
    • While many of the more stringent provisions have been removed, the Act still continues to exist without serving any real purpose since such registration and information collection has no real place in a democratic society.

    Issues/ Challenges

    • The CBFC has often suggested changes or cuts to a film before giving it a certification. While it isn’t the CBFC’s mandate to censor a film, it can withhold giving a rating unless the filmmaker agrees to its suggestions.
    • The ministry has in the past issued orders to temporarily ban news and other channels, including a 48-hour ban on Media One two years ago, along with AsiaNet for their reporting of the Delhi riots.
      • In 2016, it imposed a one-day ban on NDTV for its reporting of the Pathankot terror attack.
    • There are no specific laws on content allowed or prohibited in print and electronic media, radio, films or OTT platforms.
      • The content on any of these platforms has to follow the free speech rules of the country.
      • Article 19(1) of the Constitution, while protecting freedom of speech, also lists certain “reasonable restrictions” including content related to the security of the state, friendly relationship with foreign states, public order, decency and morality etc.
    • It also enables the Central government and the state government to frame appropriate rules to regulate the criteria for issuing Government advertisements in newspapers as well as accreditation of newspapers.
    • The Union Cabinet decided to limit the foreign direct investment in digital media to 26 percent while the limit was kept at 49 percent for TV news channels.
      • This has various ramifications from news organizations that rely on global financial resources.
    • The Indian Penal Code (IPC) contains several provisions which restrict speech and expression, which apply to media.
      • These offenses include sedition (Section 124A), defamation (Sections 499 and 500), and obscenity (Section 292), and hate speech (Section 153A, 153B, 295A, 298 and 505) among other enactments.
    • Other enactments which restrict aspects of free speech and expression are Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, Official Secrets Act, 1923, Cable Television Network Regulation Act, 1995, Cinematograph Act, 1952, Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986, SCs & STs (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955 and Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.
    • Section 69A enables the government to block any public information on the grounds mentioned under the Act.
    • Section 79 allows the government to force any intermediary to take down any sort of objectionable content.

    Way Forward

    • Action can be taken if any of these restrictions is violated. There have been several instances when cases have been filed against filmmakers, channels etc for other alleged offenses such as hurting religious sentiments.
    • There is also a new mechanism the I&B Ministry adopts: It has used emergency powers it has under the new IT Rules to block certain YouTube channels and social media accounts based on inputs from intelligence agencies.

    Source: TH