Guidelines on digital, social media, OTT should be useful, not intimidating

Logo of FBCCI

The guidelines government is about to employ in regulating social media and OTT platforms, that should not be aimed at intimidation. The clauses there are in these policies or regulations, won’t be easy for the trade and they will impede citizens’ freedom of expression.

So, it will be better to advance in a way that will be useful in moving this sector forward, instead of imposing any hard and fast rule right at the beginning.

Such call came from a seminar organised by the apex body of businessmen FBCCI at their office in the capital’s Motijheel area on Saturday.

The seminar titled ‘The Need to Strike the Right Balance’ was on the draft of "The Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission Regulation For Digital, Social Media And OTT Platforms 2021," and the draft of information ministry’s ‘OTT content-based service provision and Management Policy 2021’.

It has been said in the draft regulation of digital and social media platforms, social media companies will have to find out the first sender of any policy-breaking massage.

Any ‘banned’ content has to be removed within 72 hours and companies will have to form a 24-hour available country support team. Rules for fines and punishment have also been included in case of non-compliance with the regulations.

The draft regulation of OTT says, no content going against the liberation war, state, culture, destructive towards social values and related to sexual activities in the participation of children cannot be aired.

All OTT platforms either local or foreign, has to be registered with a certain amount of fee, content can be preserved up to a year for investigational purpose and there has to be announcement on which content is appropriate for people of which age. OTT platforms will be bound to remove any banned content whenever asked to do so.

Lawyer Rashna Imam presented the main contents of BTRC and information ministry’s drafts in the seminar. She said, pointing out the first sharer of the ‘banned massage’ will impose an extensive amount of control. This goes against the global internet policy. Political activists and common citizen, who give opinion on different issues, will be anxious. Plus, the obligation to remove content within 72 hours also needs to be reconsidered.

Highlighting the criticism that were created after those two drafts being revealed the lawyer said, if there are too many restrictions in just entering the market in Bangladesh, many wouldn’t even consider coming here. The investment in this sector will drop. Companies aren’t globally held responsible for the contents, published on the social media. If they are deemed accountable, they won’t be able to do business.

FBCCI president Md Jashim Uddin while delivering the welcome speech in the seminar said, no such thing that will create issues in enforcement can be done. OTT is a rising sector, it has to be utilised.

Investment on local content making is increasing and in this situation let no policy be a hindrance to their evolution, urged FBCCI director Syed Almas Kabir. He also said, the guideline of preserving contents for a year on investigational grounds in the OTT guidelines will be much more expensive. It can be reduced to three months and the registration process needs to be made easier.

Navidul Huq, co-founder and director of BongoBD said, Bangladesh is a unique country, where two organisations are about to make a guidelines together to regulate a single sector. If both organisations do regulate only, it won’t be easy to do business.

And, regulation means intimidation itself. People running OTT business in the country, are competing with the international market. Policies should be helpful and not for enforcing restrictions. Not only the trade, but also citizen’s freedom of expression should not be obstructed, he added.

Joining the seminar virtually, Shabhanaz Rashid, chief of Public Policy for Meta, parent company of Facebook, in Bangladesh said, if a successful regulation has to be made for online contents, a balance has to be brought there. People have to be provided security and privacy has to be maintained. She further said, neither any company preserves each and every message nor it is practical to do so.

The restrictions BTRC imposed on such topics apart from being misinterpreted, it can lead to people being harassed and their freedom of expression being undermined, Syed Ashiq Rahman, chief executive officer of RTV expressed concerns.

While speaking as the chief guest at the seminar posts and telecommunications minister Mustafa Jabbar said, BTRC has talked to all parties involved in forming the regulation. Portions that require changes will be reconsidered after discussions are done.

Government will prioritise the public opinion. However, some restrictions have to be employed there. Despite believing in freedom of speech, no anti-state activity can be committed, he added.

The digital security act is being criticised all around and the minister said in this regard, the government didn’t take any action or banned them exercising the law against any media. As much as 95 per cent of the misappropriation cases filed under the digital security act was lodged on personal initiative.

Addressing the reporters he said, even after participating in discussions at the time of the digital security act being shaped, journalists are now protesting the act when it has been enacted already.

Brigadier general Md Nasim Parvez, director general (system and services) of BTRC highlighted a presentation on the draft formed by the organisation.

He said, 100 organisations have sent their views for the BTRC draft. Those are being considered. They don’t want to create something that cannot be implemented. It has to be finalised within 19 October next. If the social media platforms want to do business, they have to do it with responsibility, he added.

Information secretary Md Mokbul Hossain said regulating social media and forming OTT guidelines these are two different issues. It won’t be scientific to regulate from the same place. Policies have to be formed considering the reality of the country.

Among others, executive editor of Dhaka Tribune Riaz Ahmed, managing director of Asian Internet Coalition Jeff Paine and senior vice-president of FBCCI Mostofa Azad Chowdhury spoke in the seminar moderated by FBCCI general secretary Mohammad Mahfuzul Hoque.