Draft broadcasting Bill could have ‘chilling effect’ on freedom of speech, says industry body

A private association of television news broadcasters has expressed strong reservations against the Draft Broadcasting Services (Regulation) Bill, 2023

Lata Jha
First Published9 Feb 2024
Main areas of concern in the draft bill include allowing the Central government the power to prohibit transmission of programmes or the operation of a broadcaster or a broadcasting network, (PTI)
Main areas of concern in the draft bill include allowing the Central government the power to prohibit transmission of programmes or the operation of a broadcaster or a broadcasting network, (PTI)

A private association of current affairs and news television broadcasters has expressed strong reservations against the Draft Broadcasting Services (Regulation) Bill, 2023, which it warned would have a “chilling effect” on the freedom of speech and expression.

The main areas of concern in the draft bill include excessive delegation, inclusion of streaming, or over-the-top, services and digital news content, and power for the Central government to prohibit transmission of programmes or the operation of a broadcaster or a broadcasting network, the News Broadcasters & Digital Association (NBDA) said in a submission to the information and broadcasting ministry.

The ministry circulated the draft Bill in November.

The association, in a statement detailing its submission, stated that there is excessive reliance on delegated legislation under the draft Bill, which creates ambiguity with respect to the Central government’s expectations regarding eventual implementation of relevant provisions and that it could lead to arbitrary use of regulatory powers.

Also, regulating OTT services akin to traditional broadcasting services would amount to treating dissimilar or unequal services in a similar manner, which would not only be arbitrary and discriminatory but would also be violative of Article 14 of the Constitution, NBDA stated.

The draft Bill overlooks several fundamental distinctions between these services based on the very nature of the applicable regulatory and technology framework, business practices, and nature of relationship with consumers, it said.

“Since the content disseminated by OTT services is already regulated by and under the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, the MIB should avoid regulatory overlaps under the Draft BSR Bill, which will only lead to duplication (and increase) of compliance liability for stakeholders,” NBDA said.

Further, the association said the broad definition of “news and current affairs programmes” may result in the regulation of any content created by individual bloggers and journalists who may not be considered broadcasters in the traditional sense.

The imposition of the Programme Code and the Advertisement Code would discourage journalists and individual broadcasters from expressing their views and providing diverse perspectives on various matters, as the terms used under these are vague and can be subjectively interpreted, the association said.

Using the contravention of these codes as a touchstone for taking action against broadcasters goes beyond reasonable restrictions laid down in the Constitution, and will likely to have a “chilling effect” on the freedom of speech and expression, NBDA said.

The association also opposed the proposal for creating a regulatory structure under the draft Bill similar to the three-tier complaint redressal structure established under the Cable Television Networks (Amendment) Rules 2021 and the IT Rules 2021.

Given that the challenge to the redressal structure is pending before the Supreme Court and high courts, NBDA suggested that the provisions be kept in abeyance.

“The Draft BSR Bill also results in pre-censorship as broadcasters are permitted to air only those programmes which are certified by the content evaluation committee,” it has said.

Adding that the penalties for violating the Programme Code and the Advertisement Code would impede ease of doing business, NBDA suggested that the broadcasting ministry upload and make public stakeholders’ comments on the draft Bill.

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HomeIndustryDraft broadcasting Bill could have ‘chilling effect’ on freedom of speech, says industry body

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