The draft Broadcasting Services (Regulation) Bill, 2023, will create an overarching censorship framework for news broadcasting, including digital news services, the Editors Guild of India has stated while expressing concerns about several provisions of the bill.

The Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting had published the draft bill on November 10.

The proposed legislation aims to replace the nearly three-decade-old Cable Television Networks Regulation Act, 1995, and bring over-the-top media providers and digital news platforms under its ambit.

Several legal experts have raised concerns about the move, stating that it can lead to censorship of over-the-top platforms and the erosion of the independence of digital media. They have also pointed at the lack of clarity with regard to regulation. The ministry was accepting feedback from stakeholders on the bill till December 9.

In a letter to Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting Anurag Thakur dated December 7, the Editors Guild said that several provisions of the draft bill were “vague and excessively intrusive”.

The letter, which was made public on Monday, said that the guild was deeply concerned that the bill would have an adverse impact on the freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

“The draft outlines an overbearing system of self-regulation by mandating creation of content evaluation committees in ways that can allow the government to exercise a great degree of control on these bodies,” the guild said, listing its concerns.

The guild was referring to a provision of the bill that mandates that over-the-top platforms can only broadcast programmes certified by content evaluation committees formed by the platforms. This rule, however, does not apply to the platforms exempt by the government from certification.

The guild also stated that the draft bill allows the Central government to monitor and block content by establishing a Broadcast Advisory Council, to be headed by a bureaucrat, and “therefore create an overarching censorship framework”.

It said that the bill allows the government to regulate or even prohibit the transmission of channels or programmes on “vague grounds”.

This was in connection with the provisions that allow the government to prohibit the transmission of channels or programmes on grounds related to protecting the sovereignty, integrity or security of India, friendly relations with other nations, public order, decency and morality.

In view of this, the guild asked Thakur to put the draft in abeyance and hold meaningful consultations with all stakeholders.

Also read: Why India’s new draft broadcast bill has raised fears of censorship and press suppression