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Online media is now under the Central Ministry of Communications

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NEW DELHI: With a gazette notification signed by the President, the central government has brought digital audio-visual content, including films and web shows on over-the-top (OTT) streaming platforms, as well as news and current affairs on online platforms under the ambit of the ministry of information and broadcasting, in a move that media experts say could have far reaching effects on creative expression in India.

Up until earlier this year, senior government officials had emphasized on the need for a light-touch regulatory approach for video streaming platforms. At an event last November, I&B secretary Amit Khare had said they’re looking at a system of self-regulation for the OTT industry.

On the notification, an I&B spokesperson said the move, a long time coming, was aimed at creating a ‘level playing field’ since all other media are regulated.

Television follows the programming and advertising code prescribed under the Cable Television Network Rules, 1994. Films are governed by the Cinematograph Act, 1952.

“Today print media, news, GECs and theatrical films are all governed and regulated in some way. There was a gap, where online news and content were not yet regulated. Several cases have been filed before various courts in the last few years, seeking regulation of the same and this was coming,” Chandrima Mitra, partner at DSK Legal said. Mitra pointed out that the notification comes on the back of the Supreme Court seeking the Centre’s response on a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) for regulating OTT platforms such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video this October. Further, recent controversies such as the Sudarshan TV case had already brought to the fore the need to check web-based digital media.

After several hints from the government, 15 OTT platforms including Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+ Hotstar, ALTBalaji, ZEE5, Arre, Discovery+, Eros Now, Flickstree, Hoichoi, Hungama, MX Player, Shemaroo, VOOT and Jio Cinema had come together under the aegis of the Internet and Mobile Association of India in September to sign a code of self-regulation, formulating a framework for age classification, appropriate content description and access control. MIB, however, rejected the code and asked IAMAI to look at other mechanisms which allow for an independent monitoring organisation like the Digital Curated Content Complaints Council along with enumeration of prohibited content.

To be sure, India is not the first or only country to regulate digital media. All electronic communication in the US is regulated by the Federal Communications Commission, an independent agency of the government that regulates communications by radio, television, wire, satellite, and cable. The US has sophisticated regulations for the Internet. In general, the US, in line with the free speech principle expressed in the First Amendment has minimal content regulation.

China, Singapore and South Korea, meanwhile, have Internet-specific censorship laws.

Media and entertainment industry experts, however, say the new notification is a clear case of regulating a segment that refuses to toe the line. A senior journalist also pointed out on condition of anonymity that it will be challenging to implement these regulations given that the entry barriers for digital platforms are extremely low since they don’t require the kind of (uplinking or downlinking) licenses that broadcast networks do, or to check entities not registered in India. “Unless, like China, they want to openly censor all kinds of content,” the person said.

“Censorship and controls smack of colonial elitism where the ruling power doesn’t trust the public because they know what is good for us and we don’t,” journalist Madhu Trehan, also co-founder of digital news portal Newslaundry said.

While recent OTT offerings like Mirzapur, Sacred Games and others had drawn some flak for explicit content, creators say the distinct charm of web titles lies in their ability to be real, rustic and unapologetic. India’s theatrical business has long bowed down to diktats of the censor board, while the Indian Broadcasting Foundation and the Broadcasting Content Complaints Council have regulated TV content.

“This move is not about violence, language, or nudity, they will pass those and look progressive. OTTs were already self-censoring on this front post shows like Leila that got tremendous backlash from the right wing. It is about any content that counters government ideology or policy. So, while it will look like nothing’s really changed, it will severely affect any discourse that could have been started via films or shows about the state of the nation or people,” said a filmmaker working on a slate of web shows, who did not wish to be named.

“We look forward to working with the ministry to implement our industry’s self-regulation efforts. As responsible content creators, we want to ensure this act not only takes cognizance of the nature of content being released, but also ensures that we safeguard creativity in this rapidly growing sector,” Karan Bedi, CEO, MX Player, said.

Last year, the government had capped foreign direct investment (FDI) in digital media at 26%. Last month, in a clarification it added that majority of directors on the board of a digital news platform and its chief executive officer should be Indian citizens. Also, foreigners deployed by them for over 60 days need security clearance.

 

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Pregnant Christian in India Suffers Miscarriage After Brutal Beating by Hindu Radicals

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India– According to local sources, a pregnant Christian woman in India suffered a miscarriage after she was brutally beaten by a mob of radical Hindu nationalists. The radicals justified their attack by falsely claiming their Christian victims were involved in forced religious conversions to Christianity.

On December 31, 2020, radicals attacked a small prayer meeting in Bhevda village, located in India’s Madhya Pradesh state. The radicals reportedly stormed into the church hall and beat all of the Christians gathered for worship.

Among the Christians attending the prayer service was Leela Bhai and her husband Rakesh. At the time of the attack, Leela was eight months pregnant. According to survivors, the radicals did not spare anyone in their assault, not even Leela.

During the attack, Leela was beaten and kicked in the stomach. Days later, after complaining of severe stomach pains, Leela suffered a miscarriage.

Local Christians held a protest on January 6 in front of the Tikari police station in response to the attack. The Christians called on police to arrest those responsible for attacking the worship service and causing Leela’s miscarriage.

Anti-Christian tensions have been rising in Madhya Pradesh since the state government announced its intention to enact India’s most stringent anti-conversion law. Anti-conversion laws are often abused by radicals in India to justify assaults on Christians and other religious minorities. In the case of the attack on Leela and her church community, radicals justified their actions by falsely claiming they were stopping forced religious conversions.
Sources:persecution

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Saudi: Cabinet approves quarterly renewal of residency and work permits(Iqamas)

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Riyadh — Saudi Arabia’s Cabinet on Tuesday approved the issuance and renewal of residency permits (Iqamas) linked to work permits for a minimum of three months.

The move, however, exempts domestic workers and similar professions, the Saudi Press Agency reported quoting the Cabinet statement.

The fees (expat levy and dependent fee) for the renewal of work and residency permits can be split up and paid based on the duration of the issued and renewed permits.

The Cabinet also abolished the Diplomatic Quarter Authority in Riyadh and its organizational arrangements and transferred all its missions, projects, rights, obligations, and workers to the jurisdiction of the Royal Commission for Riyadh.

The Cabinet considered the Public Investment Fund’s strategy for the next five years, which was approved by the fund’s Board of Directors headed by the Crown Prince, as a major pillar in achieving the Kingdom’s ambitions towards economic growth, raising the quality of life, and achieving the concept of comprehensive and sustainable development in diverse traditional and modern sectors.

This also complements its huge investment and economic achievements, which enabled it to reach important strategic goals, and place it in a prominent position on the world map as a pioneering sovereign fund capable of investing and managing large capital in multiple markets, the Cabinet noted.

The Cabinet also appreciated the promising visions for the Kingdom’s prosperous future, as articulated by the Crown Prince in his speech. The PIF would contribute to supporting the development process, and continue to stimulate the growth and diversification of the economy through a number of goals, the Council said in its statement.

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