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    Here’s what gaming industry has to say about the National Broadcast Policy

    The Federation of Indian Fantasy Sports (FIFS) argues that there is a need to avoid regulatory overlap between Information Technology (IT) (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, and the National Broadcasting Policy. FIFS said this in response to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s (TRAI) consultation on the National Broadcasting Policy. As a part of the consultation, TRAI asked stakeholders to—

    • Suggest the policy and regulatory aspects that should be adopted for the orderly growth of online gaming in India.
    • Suggest measures to help local game developers to compete and grow
    • Suggest safeguards for the general public (especially underage players) from the negative effects of gaming

    How do the IT Rules regulate gaming?

    IT rules, 2021 had notably been amended in 2023, to include online gaming within the regulatory ambit of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY). FIFS explains that the amended rules put in place a three-tiered regulatory framework for online gaming intermediaries and also put in place a range of obligations on the gaming intermediaries such as displaying a mark of registration and carrying out know-your-customer (KYC) verification.

    FIFS says that these rules were drafted after extensive stakeholder consultations and as such, “MeitY is best positioned to effectively govern, administer, and regulate the online gaming industry in India” through these rules. FIFS is not the only one to want gaming regulation to be limited to the IT Rules. Others such as Sony India have argued that online gaming should be kept outside the scope of the broadcasting policy.

    Fellow gaming industry body, All Indian Gaming Federation (AIGF), noted in its submission that the amended IT Rules, 2021 have not been implemented yet. “The beneficial regulatory environment laid out under these rules can only take shape once they are implemented. This would be the best way forward towards providing regulatory clarity to the gaming sector,” AIGF says.

    Should gaming companies even be treated as an intermediary?

    As MediaNama’s editor Nikhil Pahwa had written last April, treating gaming companies as intermediaries is a global anomaly. “Intermediaries are meant to be mere conduits for interactions between two people and not create the playing field on which two players will compete,” he had explained. Pahwa also questioned the legality of the IT Rules, stating that the due diligence framework of the IT Act cannot be used to create a regulatory framework for gaming.

    Notably, despite the questions surrounding amended rules, neither of the industry bodies has questioned the intermediary status of the online gaming companies.

    Need to regulate online gaming under a broader regulatory umbrella:

    “The realm of online gaming presents unique challenges that cannot be effectively addressed in isolation. Instead, it is imperative to regulate online gaming under a broader umbrella that also governs other tech-related issues,” AIGF says in its submission. It argues that online gaming intersects with various aspects of digital technology and issues like intermediary liability, age rating, the growing emergence of AI in gaming, etc.

    “By regulating it with a broader framework, we can ensure consistency and coherence in addressing these interconnected concerns,” AIGF explains. A broader regulatory framework would help in effective resource allocation and minimize regulatory gaps and inconsistencies. AIGF explains that the MeitY is currently working on replacing the Information Technology Act, 2000 (of which the IT Rules are a part) with the Digital India Act. It suggests that the lessons learned from implementing the IT Rules should be incorporated into the Digital India Act to “design and provide an expanded framework for all online games.”

    Curbing online betting and gambling:

    FIFS points out that the Central Government has been enacting measures to regulate the online gaming sector. For instance —

    • The Home Ministry has relied upon section 69A of the IT Act to block more than 230 apps that were believed to be allowing illegal gambling and betting services.
    • The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) has issued advisories urging people to refrain from publishing advertisements promoting online betting and gambling platforms.
    • Advertisements pertaining to online gaming for real money winning are scrutinized by the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI). ASCI has guidelines in place for such ads, requiring them to include prominent disclaimers pertaining to the financial risks involved in such games.

    AIGF also points to advisories against advertising online gambling and betting apps, adding that the issue has persisted despite advisories. It suggests that errant advertisements can be addressed by implementing the verification marks as provided for permitted online games under the IT Rules. “This will enable MIB, ASCI, advertisers, and the public in accessing a whitelist of legitimate online games, and immediately identify content belonging to unmarked illegal gambling platforms,” AIGF explains.

    On the other hand, FIFS proposes that these advisories by the MIB and the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, and even the ASCI’s Guidelines pertaining to advertisements of online real money games should be formalized into enforceable regulations. This can be done through a code of ethics within the IT Rules for online gaming intermediaries, similar to the code of ethics for over-the-top (OTT) platforms.

    Promoting online gaming:

    In April 2022, the Central Government constituted the AVGC task force to promote the growth of this sector. The task force came out with its report in December 2022. Key recommendations of the report for game development included—

    • Establishment of specialized centers and hubs that focus on gaming,
    • Promoting gaming content that brings Indian culture and stories to a global audience.
    • Financial benefits like tax exemptions or support in accessing online markets as incentives for entrepreneurs working in the sector.
    • The report also called for a ‘National AVGC-XR Mission’ (XR means extended reality) with a budget outlay.

    Both AGIF and FIFS suggest the implementation of these recommendations explaining that this would be ideal for the growth of the sector.

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    The post Here’s what gaming industry has to say about the National Broadcast Policy appeared first on MediaNama.

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