On October 3, 2022, the Indian Ministry of Broadcasting and Information (‘Ministry’) issued two separate advisories (collectively ‘Advisories’), addressed to private satellite television channels and to digital media platforms [viz. ‘publishers of news and current affairs content on digital media’ and ‘publishers of online curated content’ i.e. (OTT platforms)] respectively, directing the relevant parties to refrain from promotion and advertisement (including surrogate or indirect advertisement) of online betting platforms. The concerned digital media platforms were also ‘strongly’ advised not to target such advertisements towards the Indian audience.
The directions of the Ministry (in the Advisories) are intended in public interest, keeping in mind the prohibition of betting and gambling under the applicable laws in most states of India [since the Indian Constitution grants state legislatures in India the authority to regulate and govern such activities within their respective territory] as well the significant financial and socio-economic risks involved for Indian consumers engaging in such activities. The Advisories are issued in furtherance to an earlier advisory of the Ministry (dated June 13, 2022) (‘June Advisory’) which had similarly directed print and electronic media (including newspapers, private satellite television channels and publishers of news and current affairs content on digital media] to refrain from publishing advertisements of online betting platforms in India or targeting such advertisements towards the Indian audience.
The Ministry observed in the Advisories that (despite its June Advisory) ‘promotional content and advertisements’ of betting platforms remains visible on certain digital media platforms. Further, it observed that some online offshore betting platforms (not registered with any legal authority in India) had established news websites (the logos of which were ‘strikingly similar’ to the betting platform’) which were being are advertised (by such betting platforms) as a ‘surrogate product’ (for the indirect promotion/advertisement of the associated online betting platform in India). It also observed that such ‘surrogate’ news websites (established and operated under the pretext of being ‘professional sports blogs’, sports news websites, etc.) were also not registered with any legal authority under Indian laws. The Ministry’s observations were extensively supplemented with documentary evidence (attached as annexures to the Advisories) of direct and indirect/surrogate advertisements and identified various online betting platforms operating in India (including 1xBet and PariMatch).
Consequently, the Ministry [in co-ordination with the Indian Department of Consumer Affairs] issued the Advisories in accordance with the ‘Guidelines for Prevention of Misleading Advertisements and Endorsements for Misleading Advertisements, 2022’ (‘Guidelines’) [previously issued by the Indian Central Consumer Protection Authority under the Indian Consumer Protection Act, 2019] read with [the Advertising Code prescribed under] the ‘Cable TV Network Regulation Act 1995’ (‘Cable Act’) [as regards private television channels] and the ‘Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021’ (‘IT Rules’) [as regards digital medial platforms]. For reference, these Guidelines [define and] prohibit surrogate advertisements (i.e., any advertisement which is directly or indirectly suggestive or indicative of illegal goods and services or uses any ‘…brand name, logo, color, layout and presentation…’ associated with such illegal goods or services) while both the Cable Act and IT Rules prohibit advertisement or promotion of any content which is violative of, or not in conformity with, the Indian laws.
Notably, the Ministry has expressly mentioned that any contravention/violation of the Advisories by private satellite news channels could result in penal action against the relevant parties. It is also pertinent to note that non-compliance of the Advisories by digital media platforms could also lead the relevant parties to incur penal liabilities (under the IT Rules read with the relevant provisions of the Indian ‘Information Technology Act, 2000’).