Washington: A report by the non-partisan United States International Trade Commission (USITC) has pegged "increased censorship activity" in India as one of the reasons that has affected the prospect of American business ventures in films, social media and video streaming.
The USITC is a federal organisation and the report was published at the behest of the Senate Committee for Finance as the first part of a series of two reports focused on what American businesses abroad describe as "impediment for trade or investment in key foreign markets."
In particular, the report has flagged rules related to intermediary rules, increase in instances of internet shutdowns, and rules related to foreign investment limits in digital media in India as having an impact on US businesses. Some of the instances it cited included "threat of arrest" of Twitter executives and increase in takedown orders sent to the microblogging service as well as Google.
USITC said US businesses were active in most segments of the media market in India, including television, publishing, films, online services, and were among the "leading providers of social media and video streaming services."
The report claimed that the government exercised censorship practices in two ways – by citing relevant laws and regulations to provide notices to "remove content, shut or slow down internet access, file criminal charges, block the release of a documentary or prevent a television station from broadcasting"; and through a "variety of informal mechanisms based on intimidation and harassment".
Laws such as the Indian Penal Code, Information Technology (IT) Act, Disaster Management Act, Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act were cited as major sources of censorship in India.
In particular, shutdowns of websites under Section 69A of the IT act had increased from 2,799 shut down websites in 2018 to 9,849 in 2020, the report said. US websites and accounts had been primarily affected. The IT (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Rules), 2021 were also a source of worry as it required social media sites to find the "first originator" of a message which could challenge end-to-end encryption of messages in the name of law enforcement.
The report flagged the government capping foreign investment in digital media to 26% (which is in line with print media, but below the 49% set for television media), and claimed, "These new rules have subsequently led a number of US firms to close news operations in India." Informal censorship was also a major hurdle for US-based companies who often had to change or withdraw content that could potentially be seen as criticising the government, the report said.
Additional censorship required by the Cinematographer Act also affected the quality of films and shows released, in some cases changing the spirit of the work entirely, the report claimed. It also said internet shutdowns had placed hurdles in the way of US based online media, like Facebook, which reported 90 shutdowns that affected access to their service for a total of 17 months (combined lengths for all regions) in 2020.