MIB seeks to regulate user-generated content on social media

After the staggering success of news platforms and news content creators native to social media during the elections – the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has proposed to regulate them directly under the new Broadcasting Services (Regulation) Bill which is currently in its drafting stage.

According to sources close to the development, the MIB invited internet companies such as Google, Meta, and X (formerly known as Twitter) as well as streaming companies like Netflix and Amazon to inform them of their new proposal to include user-generated content on the internet put out by “professionals” under the new broadcasting Bill. 

Widening the ambit

This is a doubling down on the earliest draft of the broadcasting Bill, which also proposed likely censorship and regulation of news content creators. In the previous draft of the Bill, the one released for the public in November 2023 – this was less explicit – in effect, they had stated that any entity that broadcasts news and current affairs online would be liable to attract the same obligations as OTT streaming services under the Bill. 

However, according to sources, the Ministry now explicitly wants to bring “professional” content creators directly under regulation of MIB. As of now, the Ministry has not established the definition of these “professional” content creators, giving no threshold like number of followers or hits or monetisation for such influencers or professionals.

According to a source who attended the meeting,“The Ministry’s bid to regulate “professional” content creators will be a significant impediment to free speech, The Ministry did not provide a clear definition of a professional content creator- in which case millions of social media users across the country could be deemed to be professionals. If regulated under the broadcasting bill they will  have to register themselves into a self-regulating body,” the source said. 

On May 28, the Press Club of India, met to express concerns about these provisions. At the meeting it was expressed that the government will have to ensure that proposed future laws should not impede press freedom, while upholding the right to privacy of citizens.

In the first draft of the Bill released last year itself, the Ministry outlined a three-tier content regulation system. This involves a Content Evaluation Committee at the individual broadcaster level for self regulation, a second tier of self regulatory organization (SRO) under which a group of broadcasters must be affiliated and lastly the Broadcast Advisory Council (BAC) which will hear appeals from SROs as well as the Central Government. 

The bringing of user generated content under the broadcasting Bill in effect puts individual content creators within this ambit as well. So far, user generated content is regulated under the IT rules, although the MIB also has takedown powers. 

This election season in particular has shown further democratisation in content creation and news. YouTube, which could be considered a direct substitute of linear broadcasts (or TV news channels), has become the most popular and influential platform for these content creators. Individuals from all possible walks life, have used YouTube to disseminate news.

This includes former primetime anchor at NDTV, Ravish Kumar who does a version of his former program on his YouTube channel every day. Or Dhruv Rathee, a 29-year-old who has built one of India’s biggest YouTube channels, succinctly explaining daily news to his 28.7 million odd subscriber base.

Opposition parties projected some of his popular videos in parts of Uttar Pradesh as part of their campaign strategy. It is not just big YouTubers however, local stringer youtubers have also emerged that covered micro issues related to their constituencies during the elections, widely subscribed at the local level. At a time when the opposition was scrimping for resources, YouTube balanced the scales with BJP’s vast digital campaign infrastructure – making this India’s first “YouTube election.”

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