Against the backdrop of rising demand that government regulations don't hurt OTT (over-the-top) platforms, Post, Telecommunications and Information Technology Minister Mustafa Jabbar on Saturday warned that no content against the state will be allowed.
"We understand freedom but not unrestrained freedom. Nothing against the state will be allowed in the name of freedom of speech," he said while appearing as the chief guest at the "Regulation of Digital, Social Media & OTT Platforms: The Need to Strike the Right Balance" seminar on Saturday.
Stakeholders at the seminar, organised by the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce & Industries (FBCCI), had cautioned that OTT was an emerging industry attracting investment from production companies and video streaming service providers, but overregulation could deal it a blow.
FBCCI Director and former president of the Bangladesh Association of Software and Information Services Syed Almas Kabir said Bangladesh now had many video streaming platforms, highlighting the OTT platform market size was $178 billion and expected to exceed $275 billion by 2027.
He urged for government support of the sector.
Presenting the keynote paper, managing partner at Akhtar Imam and Associates, Barrister Rashna Imam outlined some recommendations, saying, "Extensive and meaningful consultations with all stakeholders is needed before redrafting [the law].
"It must take into account the technical, operational and functional differences between internet-based service providers. Any framework that does not strike the right balance will either put the brakes on the digital economy in Bangladesh or threaten the safety and security of consumers and the society at large," she warned.
Barrister Imam, during her presentation, pointed out a clause in the draft regulations of the Regulation of Digital, Social Media & OTT Platforms 2021 which said the dissemination of any content which destroys the liberation war spirit, hurts religious sentiments, or is harmful to communal harmony, was against native culture and social values, is prohibited. But this had to be clarified further.
Speaking on the occasion, FBCCI President Jashim Uddin, however, said that while digital opportunities should be taken, it has to be ensured that "our own culture is not lost" in the process.
BongoBD Co-founder and Director Navidul Huq suggested that regulation comes from any one policy instead of the two currently being mulled.
Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) is preparing the Regulation of Digital, Social Media & OTT Platforms 2021 and the information ministry is working on an OTT (over-the-top) content-based service provision and management policy-2021.
He said, "Bangladesh is always intimidated by regulations. There is a similar regulation in India, too, but even though Bangladesh started its one afterwards, it still has two. There will be no ease of doing business if the two regulations come into force."
Huq said Bangladesh was competing with international platforms like Netflix and needed support.
"Not just for businesses, even the freedom of expression for citizens should not be hindered," he added.
Stressing the need for digital literacy to curb rumours, Sabhanaz Rashid Diya, head of public policy, Bangladesh, Meta, said a good example of similar laws was enacted by New Zealand and Australia.
Jeff Paine, managing director, Asia Internet Coalition, said through OTT platforms, it was possible to convey the culture of Bangladesh to the world.
He said the government should support the sector through different policies to ensure the availability of skilled workers.
Ministry of Information and Broadcasting Secretary Mokbul Hossain attended the event as the special guest.
The Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (Btrc) recently formulated a draft policy called 'Regulation of Digital, Social Media & OTT Platforms 2021' to de-risk online platforms.