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Broadcasting Bill not an attempt to create a level playing field between OTT and TV: I&B ministry

I&B Joint Secretary Sanjiv Shankar calls the assumption that TRAI may regulate OTT in future an overstatement as the proposed Bill has not touched the powers of the telecom regulator

With the inclusion of OTT platform operators in “Broadcasting Network Operator” in the draft Broadcasting Services (Regulation) Bill, 2023, the broadcast industry called it an attempt to create a level playing field involving two different and unequal platforms and technologies.

Denying that there is any such attempt to create a level playing field among various platforms, I&B Joint Secretary Sanjiv Shankar told BestMediaInfo.com that it is a convergence of regulatory frameworks.

“In other words, it is a single code that brings all the platforms under one umbrella,” he said.

The broadcasters’ concerns stemmed from the fact that the television broadcasting ecosystem is heavily regulated both in terms of content, distribution and pricing.

“If OTT is brought under such regulation, the growth of the young sector will be stifled,” a senior broadcast executive told BestMediaInfo.com.

While the content of the television sector is guided by the Programme Code and Advertising Code under the I&B ministry, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) regulates the sector for distribution and pricing.

The high degree of regulation has undeniably affected the growth of the broadcast sector with many television channels shutting shop in the past few years, especially niche channels.

When asked if the inclusion of OTT as a “Broadcast Network Operator” will give TRAI the right to say that they will regulate the OTT sector as well in future, Shankar said that this assumption is an overstatement as the proposed Bill has not touched the powers of TRAI.

As the industry experts seek to de-regulate the broadcast sector, Shankar assured that there are enough provisions in the draft Bill through which the regulations can be toned down whenever the government is convinced that it is time to tone down.

“Bill has enabling provisions that define the authorities to bring about regulations. Now, within that framework, whether you need a lower regulation that can also be done,” he said.

For example, the bill has a provision that allows the ministry to convert registration into intimation, Shankar added.

Responding to the concerns around OTT’s inclusion in the proposed/draft Bill, the senior bureaucrat said that the treatment of the OTT sector is differential.

“The general optics is that just because everything is included in the same bill, and hence all will come under one rule. Which is not the case. What we have provided for is the differentiated regulations based on the nature of the platform. The draft bill clearly says that different provisions shall apply to different mediums,” he added.

The sub-section 2 of Section 5 under General Obligations of Broadcasters and Broadcasting Network Operators clearly says that the Central Government may prescribe different rules under sub-section (1) for different types of broadcasters and broadcasting network operators.

Shankar assured that the provisions for Internet broadcasting operators or OTT are different today and will remain different tomorrow as well.

“If you look at Schedule I which has penalty provisions, OTT has the least penalties indicating differential treatment,” he explained

According to the Joint Secretary, such provisions reflect how differential treatment has been recognised and it is envisaged for different broadcasting network operators.

“So, there is no attempt to treat all the platforms in a similar manner. This is the basic premise of the proposed bill,” Shankar concluded.


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