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India and Indonesia Face Concerns Over Press Freedom and Journalism Restrictions

2024-05-16 23:31:15.222000

India's Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has proposed a new draft broadcast bill that aims to replace the existing regulations for the broadcasting sector. The bill, which has raised concerns about censorship, press suppression, and lack of clarity in regulation, introduces a system of self-regulation through content evaluation committees, giving the government significant control over these bodies. The bill extends cable television regulations to online entities, which experts argue is problematic as the internet provides greater availability of information and choice. The inclusion of digital news published by individuals under the regulatory ambit raises concerns for online free speech and journalistic expression. Failure to comply with the provisions of the bill may result in penalties ranging from censorship of content to fines and registration cancellation. The bill also allows for the prohibition of broadcasting in certain regions, requiring over-the-top platforms to track user locations. Experts suggest that the regulation of the broadcasting domain should be independent of executive control and inspired by principles of consensual content viewing. They also emphasize the need to address market concentration and potential monopolies in media and broadcasting.

The Editors Guild of India (EGI) has called out the draft Broadcasting Services Regulation Bill, 2023 for being 'vague and excessive'. In its submission to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB), EGI expressed concerns that the bill would be 'adverse to the spirit of freedom of speech and freedom of press guaranteed by the constitution.' EGI highlights concerns about the lack of definitions for 'news and current affairs' and 'systematic business, profession or commercial activity', making the provisions regulating news services vague and worrisome. The bill also does not clarify whether a threshold of subscribers/viewers will be prescribed for who qualifies as a broadcaster [15068100].

The National Alliance of Journalists (NAJ), the Delhi Union of Journalists (DUJ), and the Andhra Pradesh Working Journalists Federation (APWJF) have also expressed reservations against the proposed Broadcasting Services (Regulation) Bill 2023. These journalist associations argue that the bill is a step towards expanding censorship and increasing government control over various media platforms. They believe that the bill blurs the distinction between journalism and content creation and includes provisions that could muffle independent voices. The associations call for the bill to be rolled back and suggest the formation of a common body like a Media Commission of India to address self-regulation. They also criticize the bill for being silent on media ownership concentration. The bill comes after the Telecom Act of 2023, the Digital Personal Data Protection Act, 2023, and the IT Amendment Rules, 2023 [cdfee184].

Under the present regime, censorship muscle is being directed at print, television, and digital mediums through various acts and rules. The Broadcasting Services (Regulation) Bill, 2023, IT Rules of 2021 and 2023 amendments to Press and Registration of Periodicals Act, 2023 are all part of the censorship efforts. The government is in a hurry to pass these bills, despite concerns raised by experts and professionals. The Editors Guild of India has expressed deep concern about the new Press and Registration of Periodicals Act, which widens the powers of the State and imposes restrictions on citizens. The Cable Act and the Cable Television Networks (Amendment) Rules in 2021 have also created regulations for television content. The IT Rules amendment of 2021 has faced challenges in various High Courts. The rules have been criticized for going beyond the powers delegated under the Act, overbroad grounds for restricting online content, lack of procedural safeguards, and privacy concerns [14d8033e].

This proposed bill is part of the Indian government's efforts to regulate streaming platforms and online content. It aims to bring platforms like Netflix, Disney, and Amazon under the purview of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. The bill introduces Content Evaluation Committees (CECs) to evaluate and certify the content produced by these platforms. However, critics argue that these measures could lead to censorship and excessive government control.

Meanwhile, in Indonesia, the broadcasting bill currently being deliberated at the House of Representatives has sparked public uproar for articles that will limit the work of journalists. The bill excludes the press from the expanded definition of broadcasting that now includes the internet and digital sphere. The bill includes a ban on investigative work and gives the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission (KPI) the authority to create guidelines, limitations, bans, rules, obligations, and sanctions for all parties in broadcasting. The KPI will also handle complaints, violations, and disputes related to investigative journalism, raising concerns about press freedom. The bill adds to the existing restrictions on press freedom in Indonesia, including restrictions on digital media under the Information and Electronic Transactions Law (ITE) and the potential criminalization of journalistic work under the Criminal Code. The potential clampdown on broadcast media comes at a time when journalists are embracing audiovisual media, which includes video footage that is harder to refute. Some members of the House Commission I overseeing communications and information, defense, intelligence, and foreign affairs claim that the bill is targeting entertainment media that monetizes gossip news, but doubts remain. The press in Indonesia is already facing challenges from the internet and social media, and further restrictions on journalism would limit press freedom [dd13dbfc].

Alongside the battle for creative freedom, there are other topics of concern in India. One of them is the need for a new crop mix in Punjab to address issues like air pollution. There are debates about phasing out paddy cultivation and replacing it with less water-intensive crops. This change is seen as a potential solution to tackle air pollution in the region.

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Lastly, the article mentions the deportation of Afghan refugees by Pakistan. The refugees are being deported due to claims of illegal stay. This raises concerns about the humanitarian situation and the need for international support for the refugees.

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