Exploring Digital Boundaries: Understanding Bangladesh’s Online Content Regulations

The evolving digital landscape in Bangladesh has spurred the need for a reimagined regulatory framework, driven by the exponential growth of connectivity and the subsequent challenges posed by the surge in social media and digital platform usage. The sharp rise in internet subscribers from 123.82 million at the close of 2021 to 130 million by November 2022 underscores the urgency for a strategic response. Furthermore, The Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) and the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MoBI) crafted separate guidelines for responsible online engagement, addressing digital age challenges while fostering responsible content creation.

To explore the digital boundaries of these massive users and to understand the regulations of Online Content of Bangladesh, The Asia Internet Coalition (AIC) in the partnership with Institute of Informatics and Development (IID) organised a Policy Breakfast on ‘Governance of Bangladesh’s Online Content: A Review’, which was held on 24th July 2023 at the Brac Centre Inn, Mohakhali, Dhaka.

Taking the stage as panelists were three notable speakers: Jeff Paine, Managing Director PS-engage, AIC; Sara Hossain, Deputy Head of Chambers and Partner, Dr. Kamal Hossain and Associates; and Ruzan Sarwar, APAC Public Policy representative, Meta.

Panelists outlined the existing legal framework for digital and social media regulation and discussed roles in content oversight, with reform suggestions for the Bangladeshi Government. While recent proposals signaled progress, uncertainties remained about permissible content, prompting suggestions to avoid overly broad provisions. Engaging experts, organizations, and businesses aimed to enhance understanding, fairness, transparency, and balanced content regulation.

Participants actively discussed the legal challenges posed by online content regulations. The conversation delved into the implications of having two recent regulations and regulatory bodies overseeing OTT platforms, as well as the absence of consultation during the formulation of these regulations. It has also engaged with the evaluation of the present legal framework’s effectiveness, global best practices for managing speech concerns, regulations’ impact on business and national progress, and insights on policy and collaboration dynamics.

Among others, Member of the Parliament, Barrister Shamim Haider Patowary MP; Mahjabeen Khaled, Former Member of Parliament and Convenor, Parliamentary Caucus on Social Justice; Victoria Hyde, Government Relations & Public Policy Analyst, APAC-AIC; Md. Waheed Alam, Senior Advisor, AIC; Navidul Huq, Co-Founder and Director, Bongo BD; Naeem Ashrafi, Head of Innovation Fund, a2i along with other OTT experts were presented at the event. Syeed Ahamed, CEO of IID moderated the Policy Breakfast.

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