The Indian government has ordered that all online news, social media and video streaming platforms, such as Netflix and Amazon Prime, be regulated by the state, raising fears of growing digital media censorship.
The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, which regulates and censors printing newspapers, television, films and theater, will also have jurisdiction over digital news and entertainment platforms in India under the new order.
The move is part of the pressure on the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to regularize a digital circle that provides space for more critical journalism and entertainment than traditional media.
According to the watchdog Freedom House, Internet freedom in India has declined over the past three years and it is feared that the order signals the end of the digital realm as a last resort for creative and journalistic differences in India. The law is likely to be passed in parliament this week.
Nikhal Pahwa, a digital rights activist and founder of the online news portal Media Nama, said: “The fear is that the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting – primarily the Indian Ministry of Justice – is now in a position to organize online news and entertainment. A major exercise in government control and censorship.
The order comes months after a campaign by rights groups to bring streaming platforms such as Netflix and Amazon under censorship laws such as television and film. Streaming services have exploded in popularity in India, with 25 million Netflix subscribers.
So far, online news and entertainment has been overseen by the Ministry of Technology, which does not interfere with or regulate content. Streaming platforms were forced to come up with a code for self-censorship, but all versions were rejected.
The shows created for these streaming platforms, such as Patil Lok, Sacred Games, Leila and Rasbhari, did not meet the standards of restrictions on the result-oriented traditional media, and did not include sexual, sexual violence, homosexuality and caste. Also eliminated inequality. Politically sensitive issues such as Hindu nationalism and persecution of Muslims.
Pahawa said the order meant that “the ministry may extend the terms of any service it may render.” This will further censor the content on streaming services and give the government more leeway to force stream services to take action on complaints.
Netflix and Amazon will not comment on the new order. However, Netflix has recently poured half a billion dollars into its Indian operations and looks set to comply with any government regulations.
The inclusion of online news portals in the order was seen in the same vein, and the government continued to take steps to bring online news under its control. Last month, a law was passed stating that foreign investment in digital news platforms could not exceed 26%.
Although the traditional media in India is largely pro-government and under intense pressure, online news platforms such as The Wire and Scroll India are increasingly critical of the BJP government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist agenda.
These sites have already been heavily regulated, not only by complying with traditional news organizations such as the media and defamation laws, but also by the strict Information Technology Act, which often targets and targets such journalists. Used for charging which produces critical coverage. However, the new order could force digital news platforms to register with the government in the same way as traditional news organizations.
Siddharth Varadrajan, editor of The Wire, which has been bombarded with numerous criminal allegations for its critical coverage of the government, said: This is nonsense because all the restrictions that come with the constitutional guarantee of free speech, and a free press, apply to news websites as well as to newspapers and TV channels. But what bothers the government is that we have exercised our freedom – to ask questions and to pursue the stories that the big media is rapidly moving away from.
Varadrajan added: “Everything in government is done with a purpose and I would imagine it to be a prelude to a new law, or even enactment, to ‘regulate’ news websites. A democratic country does not do that.
Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter will also be subject to the rules, although it is unclear how they will be implemented. The government has said details of the law will be announced this week.
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