The Centre on Friday released a bill that seeks to regulate over-the-top or OTT platforms such as Netflix, Hotstar and Amazon’s Prime Video.

Streaming giants often face police cases in India on charges of hurting religious sentiments, and many have self-censored content in the last few years.

The Broadcasting Services (Regulation) Bill, 2023, also empowers the government to regulate any online creator or news media platform, said Apar Gupta, a policy expert and the founding director of the Internet Freedom Foundation.

Additionally, the draft bill proposes to include any new platform developed in the future under the government’s regulatory purview, a senior official of the Information and Broadcasting Ministry told The Hindu.

The bill, which aims to replace the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act of 1995, also calls for formation of Content Evaluation Committees.

“The Central government may prescribe the number of members in CEC, quorum required, and such other details to facilitate the formation of CEC and its smooth functioning,” the draft bill says.

Only those shows shall be broadcast that are “duly certified” by such a panel, according to the bill.

Gupta wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter, that “a historic opportunity at liberalisation is being squandered and a paternalistic mechanism of censorship and government control has been proposed” by the Modi government.

The bill is open for public consultation for 30 days. In April, Information and Broadcasting Minister Anurag Thakur had said that streaming platforms should “not propagate vulgarity and abuse camouflaged as creative expression”.

The government, he indicated, was willing to change regulations if necessary to address the matter.

In November 2020, the Centre brought streaming platforms under the purview of the Information and Broadcasting Ministry, which has content censorship powers in mediums like cinema and television.

New digital ad policy approved

The Centre on Friday also announced that it has approved a new policy to allow its advertising department, the Central Bureau of Communication, to undertake advertisement campaigns on social media, OTT platforms and other digital media.

The policy, “Digital Advertisement Policy, 2023”, was approved by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.

The ministry said in a statement that the policy “marks a pivotal moment in CBC’s mission to disseminate information and create awareness regarding various schemes, programs, and policies of the Government of India in response to the evolving media landscape and the increased digitalization of media consumption”.

The advertising department will can now empanel digital media agencies to reach out to podcast listeners, YouTube and OTT viewers and other social media users. The policy will allow the department to empanel OTT platforms to place ads as well as to produce in-film advertisements, promotion and branding activities.