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Rules to Regulate OTT Platforms Lack Teeth, Have No Provision for Prosecution: SC to Centre

The government had last week come out with rules and a framework for regulating streaming service providers.

The government had last week come out with rules and a framework for regulating streaming service providers.

The government said it can prepare a fresh draft in two weeks after the court said there cannot be effective control without legislation.

The Supreme Court on Friday expressed dissatisfaction with the new rules framed by the government to regulate content on OTT streaming platforms, and said the guidelines “lacked teeth”.

A two-judge bench of the apex court remarked that the new rules, framed under the IT Act, did not have any provisions for prosecution or fine, in case the guidelines were not followed. “Without a legislation, there cannot be effective control,” Justice Ashok Bhushan said, legal news site Live Law reported.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told the court that the government can prepare a fresh draft within two weeks, even as the court said the Centre should consider framing a law instead of mere guidelines. “We are trying to balance between no-censorship and internal self-regulation. We can come up with something for the Court’s consideration. This needs examination,” he told the court.

The bench was hearing a pre-arrest bail petition filed by Amazon Prime Video’s India commercial head Aparna Purohit in the FIR registered by UP Police over alleged hurting of religious sentiments by the web series Tandav. The court granted her interim protection on the condition that she cooperates with the investigation and appears for questioning as and when summoned by the police.

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The court also indicated that it would add the issue of OTT regulation in this case, and added the central government as a party to it.

While hearing Purohit’s case on Thursday, the court had observed there should be screening of OTT content as “few OTT platforms are showing some kind of pornographic content.”

The government had last week come out with rules and the framework for regulating social media companies, streaming service providers, and digital media companies under the Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021.

As per the new rules, OTT streaming platforms will now come under a three-tier regulatory regime. The first tier will be self-regulation by the company itself, and for this, every company will have to appoint a grievance redressal officer, and publish their details on their websites.

In the second-level, industry bodies will address complaints made against organisations that come under them. The grievance redressal mechanism of the industry body will have to be headed by a retired judge empanelled by the government, and will have to have ‘experts’. The third level is government regulation via an inter-departmental government committee appointed by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.

So the final authority in taking any action on a complaint would rest with the inter-ministerial government body at the third level, and this has raised serious concerns about censorship.

Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar had on Thursday also held a meeting with representatives of OTT platforms, the first after the government’s announcement of rules governing such content. “Had a fruitful meeting with representatives from OTT industry and explained the provisions of the OTT rules. All representatives have welcomed the new guidelines. The ministry and industry will partner together to make the OTT experience better or all audience,” he tweeted after the meeting.

first published:March 05, 2021, 14:20 IST