Laws and Regulations related to Broadcasting in India

Broadcasting, in simple terms, refers to the transmission of data from a sender all across the region of available reach. This means that the broadcast in itself reaches everyone who has the technology and allowed access to view such content that is being transmitted.

Broadcasting has played a vital role in the evolution of modern day society. It has enabled faster, easier and perhaps cheaper means of education the masses. Broadcasting is done through various methods. Some of the methods include Print media, Radio, Television, Theatres, the Internet and Over the top (OTT) platforms. Broadcasting has helped the masses in properly educating themselves in situations such as the COVID-19 pandemic. It helps in letting the people know about current affairs in the country and making the right decision when it comes to the responsibility of casting their votes in elections etc.

But like all things, although broadcasting technology has its pros, it also has its cons. Most of the cons revolve around the fact that fake information can be circulated through such platforms. Hacking, deception and phishing is no new occurrence in the internet space. This vulnerable nature of said mediums and their possible ill-effects is the reason why there are various safeguards and laws in place to regulate the content that is accessible through them.

When it comes to print media, there is a formidable weapon under which any information, as long as it doesn’t not violate any other persons rights, can be written and published. The freedom of speech and expression as enshrined under article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution guarantees this right to the press as well. Furthermore, there is a Press Council of India (PCI) which was established in 1978 for the regulation and protection of print media and its independent nature.

In Radio, Television and Theatre modes of broadcast there are various authorities in place. For screening films including short films, documentaries, television shows and advertisements in theaters or broadcasting via television the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) sanction is required.  The role of the CBFC is limited to controlling content of movies and television shows, etc.  Another law that regulates filmmaking is the Cinematography Act, 1952. Unlike the PCI, it does not have the power to issue guidelines in relation to standards of news and journalistic conduct. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) regulates the tariffs payable to subscribers of television channels and service providers in the broadcasting sector.

Coming to the Internet, it is the most widely used and the most popular method of sharing data and information among the population. The major reason for this is the versatility of the internet as it can be accessed anywhere, on any capable device (large or small). The internet has now become an umbrella that consists of print media, television and entertainment all in one which can be accessed on a single device rather than investing in various devices and subscriptions over time. The Internet and the technology needed to access, control and establish such connection comes under the purview of the Information Technology Act (2000). The IT act talks about the various aspects of offences that are committed through such mediums as well.

The internet includes Social media. Social media platforms such as Instagram, Twitter, Reddit and Facebook act as a medium of expression for the population. Although freedom of speech and expression is given to all citizens, it is not an absolute right and hence, the opinion of one person that defames and causes harm to another person’s reputation is liable to be removed. While most platforms have a filtering system, the people who upload such offensive and harmful content often find a way around such systems. The government and political parties themselves have used social media for their own benefits and bots can be used to make a certain fake news trending and can make it look all the more honest and real. The government mandates grievance redressal units, filtering of content and the access of such content for national interest as a part of the regulation drive.

Over the top or OTT platforms have been the talk ever since Hotstar, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Sony Liv etc. entered with the innovative idea that the content that was once required to be viewed on television, with a separate monthly fee could now be watched on any device that can access the internet with a fixed fee and access to all content available on said platform. This presented portability and ease of access to the masses along with the fact that they could control what they wanted to watch rather than sticking to what is forced on them when watching channels on the television. OTT platforms have the least regulation among all media but this can be attributed to the fact that it is the newest medium of broadcasting.

While most OTT platforms impose self-regulatory measures on themselves, the Government has made certain rules mandatory for such platforms. They will be required to follow the basic laws of the land while streaming content. OTT platforms will also have to set up the same three-tier grievance redressal mechanism like the digital media platforms. The rules mandate them to classify their content into five age-based categories — U (Universal), U/A 7+, U/A 13+, U/A 16+, and A (Adult), and establish the system of parental locks for content classified as U/A 13+ or higher, and reliable age verification mechanisms for content classified as “A”. Both digital news media and OTTs operating in India will have to inform the Information &Broadcast Ministry about the details of their entity, and publish periodic compliance reports every month consisting of the details of grievances received and action taken, the rules stated.

Hence, the various broadcasting play a vital role in the country in disseminating information. This information however, is to be taken with a pinch of salt as it may be biased, unruly and in extreme cases even false. While there are various regulations in place, the people in power themselves use the media, realizing its power to create narratives and propaganda that fit their own ambitions. The regulations put in place can help in the betterment of content on these mediums but when used for personal, political or other conspicuous reasons, they become a tool to spread hatred and fear.

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