Media industry expects minister Vaishnaw to address concerns, review regulations

  • Experts say the draft Broadcast Services (Regulation) Bill provides a consolidated framework to regulate broadcasting services, and extends its ambit to streaming, audio platforms, and digital news. It puts in place content evaluation panels, which are of particular concern.

Lata Jha
First Published17 Jun 2024, 04:27 PM IST
Union Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw. (Photo: HT)
Union Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw. (Photo: HT)

New Delhi: The Indian media and entertainment industry expects the new information and broadcasting minister Ashwini Vaishnaw to review and address some of the pressing issues, including content piracy, regulatory overreach, and censorship concerns.

Legal experts and industry insiders say the government's draft Broadcast Services (Regulation) Bill, which provides a consolidated framework to regulate broadcasting services, extends its ambit to cover streaming services, audio platforms, as well as digital news, and puts in place content evaluation committees. This is of particular concern, making for heavy-handed regulations that would potentially restrict freedom of expression. Yet, given that Vaishnaw also holds the electronics and IT portfolio, the industry hopes for a better understanding of how content should be managed or regulated across platforms, while addressing issues like deepfakes and misuse of artificial intelligence.

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Engaging with stakeholders

“The broadcasting regulation bill, which aims to regulate broadcasting services in India, could face several potential problems and challenges. Engaging with stakeholders and considering their concerns during the formulation and implementation of the bill will be essential to address these potential problems effectively,” Ashlesha Gowariker, senior partner at Desai & Diwanji said.

Implementing a uniform regulatory framework across diverse platforms and content types, including TV, radio, and OTT could be challenging, Gowariker said, adding that broadcasters, especially smaller ones, might face difficulties in complying with complex regulatory requirements, leading to increased operational costs. Stringent regulations might create entry barriers for new players, stifling innovation and reducing competition while potential investors may be wary of investing in a heavily-regulated market. Meanwhile, there could also be apprehensions about increased censorship and control over content, potentially stifling freedom of expression and creativity.

A senior broadcaster who did not wish to be named said that the industry is waiting to see if Vaishnaw’s experience with IT and electronics will ensure better understanding of how content should be managed across various platforms. “There is both fear and hope, as we try and address reasons that the Indian M&E (media and entertainment) sector hasn’t really been able to meet its potential yet,” the person added.

Issue of press freedom

At a recent meeting, members of the Press Club of India had noted that sweeping provisions under laws such as the proposed Broadcast Services (Regulation) Bill, 2023, the Digital Personal Data Protection Act, 2023, the Press and Registration of Periodicals Act, 2023, and the Information Technology Amendment Rules, 2023, which gives the government powers to remove any online content pertaining to its business that it deems to be false or misleading, are meant to silence the press. "The government will have to ensure that proposed future laws should not impede press freedom, while upholding the right to privacy of citizens. The existing laws and future legislations should not be leveraged to block or take down legitimate news content across platforms such as print, television and Internet," the body said in a statement.

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Bringing both the ministries of electronics and IT as well as information and broadcasting under the charge of Vaishnaw appears to be a good omen for the M&E sector, which has shown increasing signs of converging with, and dependency on, new tech, Aarushi Jain, partner, Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas, said. “Some clarity on AI-related use, possibly stringent measures for protection against deepfakes in upcoming digital laws will be a welcome move for the M&E industry which seems to be grappling with such issues,” Jain said.

Fake news problem

Further, curbing fake news remains a work in progress. Jasmine Damkewala, senior partner at Circle of Counsels, said the ministry of information and broadcasting has often pointed out that programmes need to adhere to the Programme Codes and Advertising Codes under the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995 and that the programmes cannot be obscene, defamatory, deliberately false or containing suggestive innuendo and half-truths. “However, the said regulation is mostly implemented ex post facto after the incident, reason being that the news or programme does not run through a check or censuring prior to the telecast as in the case of a certification for a movie. Accordingly, fake news has till now remained an unchartered and unremedied arena where much reform is wanting,” Damkewala added.

Online piracy challenges

To be sure, multiple challenges remain with respect to film production and exhibition as well. For one, the Indian Copyright Act, 1956, enables a general safeguard against copyright violation as far as theatrical films go. However, several issues related to online piracy persist, such as procedural delays caused in Indian courts which result in a continuous loss of revenue. Also, even after a court orders removal, the content sometimes persists on the Internet, causing further financial loss.

“The Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) is responsible for certifying films for public exhibition. However, the process has been criticized for being subjective, and sometimes arbitrary, leading to delays and disputes over cuts or changes demanded by the board. The government periodically offers tax incentives and rebates to promote film production and incentivize investment in the industry. These incentives are typically offered at the state level, and may include exemptions from entertainment tax or other financial benefits for filmmakers. But there is no overarching central framework for this, and little clarity on future initiatives,” Vikram Jeet Singh, partner, BTG Advaya, explained.

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First Published:17 Jun 2024, 04:27 PM IST
HomeIndustryMediaMedia industry expects minister Vaishnaw to address concerns, review regulations

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