Comments On The Draft Broadcasting Services (Regulation) Bill 2023

In January 2024, Common Cause submitted its comments on the Draft Broadcasting Services (Regulation) Bill 2023. Though the stated objective of the bill was to address the evolving landscape of the broadcasting industry, a closer scrutiny revealed that it sought to facilitate media censorship, subjugate the freedom of expression and creative and artistic freedom in India. The text of the draft bill paved the ground for consistent monitoring and discouraging of ostensibly unfavorable (to the powers that be) relay of information, entertainment or artistic material while creating a chilling effect. The Indian broadcasting industry has emerged as one of the most dynamic and vibrant sectors in the country.

It is undisputed that there indeed was a need to streamline the regulatory and legal framework to take care of the diverse broadcasting, to bring clarity, consistency, and flexibility, while protecting consumer interests and promoting ease of doing business. However, it seemed that the bill was an attempt to empower the government to control, censor and regulate free speech by extending its scope to the exchange of information on digital platforms as well as seeking recourse to punitive action. The bill presented an excessive scope for delegated legislation by the executive, resulting in uncertainty for the stakeholders and preventing citizens from meaningfully engaging in the consultation process. The process of consultation, despite giving time for responses, was deeply flawed as it violated the policy of pre-legislative consultation in India. Since artistic freedom concerns everyone across the country there should have been an attempt by the MIB to circulate and publicize the draft in the regional languages giving adequate time to every citizen and every regional stakeholder to give their responses or suggestions. Other than broadcasters, media companies and content providers, the bill is applicable to any citizen, artist, journalist or creative professional, who may be using the digital platforms to air their views or for artistic expression. This threatens media freedom and journalistic/ artistic quality, besides the freedom of expression. Its extension to the OTT platforms further creates a chilling effect and puts an undue burden of compliance on media companies dealing in creative content.