Table of Contents
RELEVANCE TO UPSC SYLLABUS: GS2: POLITY AND GOVERNANCE: FREEDOM OF MEDIA, REGULATION OF MEDIA.
After the much debated and controversial introduction of the IT Rules 2021, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) released the draft Broadcasting Services (Regulation) Bill, 2023 on November 10.
KEY FEATURES OF THE DRAFT BROADCASTING SERVICES(REGULATION) BILL, 2023
- The Bill provides regulatory provisions for various broadcasting services under a single legislative framework.
- It seeks to replace the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act of 1995 and other policy guidelines currently governing the broadcasting sector in India.
- The Bill extends its regulatory purview to encompass broadcasting OTT content, digital news and current affairs currently regulated through the IT Act, 2000.
- The Bill consists of six chapters, 48 sections and three Schedules.
- The Bill provides comprehensive definitions for contemporary broadcasting terms along with other important technical terms to be defined in the statute for the first time.
- It introduces content evaluation committees for self-regulation and Broadcast Advisory Council to advise the central government on programme code and advertisement code violations.
- The Bill provides statutory penalties like advisory, warning, censure, or monetary penalties for operators and broadcasters.
- Provision for imprisonment and/or fines is also there, but only for very serious offences, such as obtaining registration with a false affidavit.
- Monetary penalties and fines are linked to the financial capacity of the entity, taking into account their investment and turnover to ensure fairness and equity.
SIGNIFICANCE OF THE BILL
It addresses a long-standing need of consolidating and updating the regulatory provisions for various broadcasting services under a single legislative framework.
It introduces comprehensive definitions for contemporary broadcasting terms and incorporates provisions for emerging broadcasting technologies.
It enhances self-regulation with the introduction of ‘Content evaluation committees’ and evolves the existing Inter-Departmental Committee into a more participative and broader ‘Broadcast Advisory Council’.
The bill addresses the specific needs of persons with disabilities by providing for enabling provisions for issue of comprehensive accessibility guidelines.
CRITICISM OF THE BILL
The broad and ambiguous framing of point 36 in the draft bill raises concerns. It gives the authorized officer the ultimate power to prohibit the transmission of any program or channel not in conformity with prescribed codes or likely to promote disharmony.
The proposed bill could lead to the erasure or selective representation of Indian minority communities.
Experts have expressed concerns about the potential influence of the government in the regulatory process and the independence of the authorized officer working under government directions.
THE CABLE TELEVISION NETWORK(REGULATION)ACT (CTNR) 1995
It was introduced to curb the menace of illegal cable television networks and regulate the programming and advertising content on television.
Under the CTNR Act, cable providers were compulsorily required to register themselves and transmit two Doordarshan channels, besides adhering to content regulation.
ISSUES WITH THE IT RULES 2021
Violating privacy: The rules have a traceability requirement which mandates significant social media intermediaries like WhatsApp to “enable the identification of the first originator of the information on its computer resource.
Increasing censorship: It could lead to censorship by the government. Content posted on social media platforms at times includes criticism of the establishment, which might not be very pleasing for the elected government.
Unclear Safe Harbor Protection: The lack of clear safe harbor protection could lead to criminal liability for employees of intermediaries who fail to comply with the rules.
Fear of Misuse: There are concerns that the rules could be misused to silence dissent and curb news coverage.
THE WAY FORWARD
The bill should establish an independent regulatory body to oversee content regulation.
The Indian government has been ineffective in addressing conflicts of interest in the media industry, particularly the relationships between MSOs (Multi-Service Operators), politicians, and vertical integration. This has caused a loss of trust and the issues with the CTRN Act demonstrate a significant lack of faith in the government. As such, a regulation on conflicts of interest is essential to restore public trust.
To foster a more responsible and informed media landscape, it is crucial to invest in media literacy programs that educate the public about responsible media consumption.
The proposed Broadcasting Services Bill raises concerns about excessive government control over digital infrastructure and content consumption. Addressing conflicts of interest is paramount to ensuring fair and ethical business practices and the government should prioritize establishing regulations in this area.
PREVIOUS YEAR QUESTIONS
Q) How can the ‘Digital India’ programme help farmers to improve farm productivity and income? What steps has the Government taken in this regard? (2015)
MAINS PRACTICE QUESTION
Q) Critically discuss the key features of the draft Broadcasting Services (Regulation) Bill, 2023.
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