New Broadcast Bill: It May Also Cover Those Who Put Up News Content Online

New Delhi: Apart from directly regulating streaming platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Disney+Hotstar as over-the-top, or OTT, broadcasting services, the proposed Broadcasting Services (Regulation) Bill, 2023, also makes liable anyone who broadcasts news and current affairs programmes online, including on platforms such as YouTube and also WhatsApp and Telegram channels.

That means streaming platforms and online news organisations, which fell under the category of publishers, will now come under the category of broadcasters.

Clause 20 of the new bill says, “Any person who broadcasts news and current affairs programmes through an online paper, news portal, website, social media intermediary, or other similar medium but excluding publishers of newspapers and replica e-papers of such newspapers, as part of a systematic business, professional, or commercial activity shall adhere to the Programme Code and Advertisement code referred to in Section 19.”

Although the meaning of an OTT broadcasting service excludes social media intermediaries and their users, experts cited in the report said clause 20 includes them if they broadcast news and current affairs programmes using these platforms.

This implies that independent journalists with YouTube channels and Instagram accounts, where they post news for professional reasons, will have the same obligations as an OTT broadcaster, said the report. Furthermore, citizen journalists will also attract the same obligations if they post news content as “a systematic business, professional or commercial activity,” the report said.

However, the bill does not cover a person occasionally posting public interest content or streaming a riot live.

However, there’s less clarity about whether the Twitter account of a journalist featuring tweets about the news could attract the obligations of an OTT broadcaster. “You could get included, but that will be determined by how they notify the threshold for OTT platforms and if they will have a lower one for journalists,” the report quoted Gowree Gokhale, partner at Nishith Desai Associates, as saying.

While financial influencers could attract the obligations of an OTT broadcaster, newspapers and their e-replicas would be exempted. Although YouTube will not comply with the act as it is a social media intermediary, the paid version of YouTube, YouTube Premium, will qualify as an OTT broadcasting service.

Under this bill, even the prime minister’s WhatsApp channel could attract the same obligations as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, claimed an expert quoted in the report.

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