OTTs to self-classify content, get three-tier grievance redressal system
As per new guidelines, platforms will have to implement parental locks for content classified as U/A 13+ or higher, and reliable age verification mechanisms for content classified as 'A'
The over the top (OTT) guidelines issued by the government on Thursday will have far-reaching consequences for the video streaming industry. For one, the government has refrained from prescribing any restrictions on OTT content. The guidelines will act as a defence shield for OTT platforms against frivolous PILs.
The OTT platforms have long faced criticism of being an unregulated medium compared to the other audio-visual medium, television, which faces heavy regulation both on the content and carriage side.
Notified under section 87 of the Information Technology Act, the Code of Ethics for online news, OTT platforms, and digital media empower the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) to implement Part-III of the Rules.
The government has suggested two key points for OTT platforms. One is the self-classification of content and the other is a three-tier grievance redressal mechanism.
The OTT platforms, which are also called the publishers of online curated content in the rules, would self-classify the content into five age-based categories - U (Universal), U/A 7+, U/A 13+, U/A 16+, and A (Adult).
Platforms would be required to implement parental locks for content classified as U/A 13+ or higher, and reliable age verification mechanisms for content classified as “A”.
Further, the publisher of online curated content shall prominently display the classification rating specific to each content or programme together with a content descriptor informing the user about the nature of the content, and advising on viewer description (if applicable) at the beginning of every programme enabling the user to make an informed decision, prior to watching the programme.
The ministry has also established a three-level grievance redressal mechanism under the rules with different levels of self-regulation.
The first tier is self-regulation by the publishers in which the publisher will have to appoint a Grievance Redressal Officer based in India who shall be responsible for the redressal of grievances received by it. The officer shall take a decision on every grievance it receives within 15 days.
The second tier is self-regulation by the self-regulating bodies of the publishers. There may be one or more self-regulatory bodies of publishers. Such a body shall be headed by a retired judge of the Supreme Court, a High Court, or independent eminent person and have not more than six members.
Such a body will have to register with the MIB. This body will oversee the adherence by the publisher to the Code of Ethics and address grievances that have not been resolved by the publisher within 15 days.
The third tier will see the formulation of an oversight mechanism by the MIB. The ministry shall publish a charter for self-regulating bodies, including Codes of Practices. It shall establish an Inter-Departmental Committee for hearing grievances.
I&B minister Prakash Javadekar said that the ministry held consultations in Delhi, Mumbai, and Chennai over the last one and half years wherein OTT players have been urged to develop a “self-regulatory mechanism”.
However, the OTT platforms failed to come up with an effective self-regulatory mechanism thereby forcing the ministry to come up with an institutional mechanism, the minister said.
The government also said that it has studied the models in other countries including Singapore, Australia, EU, and the UK, and has gathered that most of them either have an institutional mechanism to regulate digital content or are in the process of setting up one.
It is pertinent to note that the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) in consultation with the MIB agreed to a Universal self-regulatory code that has been adopted by 17 of the leading Online Curated Content Platforms [OCCPs] in India, and have committed to its speedy rollout through an ’Implementation Toolkit’. The IAMAI had also urged the government to hold a public consultation on draft OTT guidelines.
Kurate Digital Consulting senior partner Uday Sodhi said that the industry should be happy that there are clear guidelines for OTT. “It doesn't talk about any form of censorship. It only talks about the classification of content in the right way and gives clear direction on how to classify content. That makes life for the OTT platform much easy. It also talks about the redressal mechanism. It is also more or less in line with what IAMAI had recommended as part of their self-regulatory guidelines.”
He also said that the execution and implementation of the fine print will be critical going forward. “So many shows are launched every year out of which one or two shows get into trouble. What the guidelines will do is that if somebody feels upset about a show you don't need to pull it off. The industry should also follow these guidelines in letter and spirit. If you follow the guidelines there shouldn't be a problem. The guidelines make it clear that the government doesn't want to get involved in any form of control of the content."
Commenting on the guidelines, Ullu CEO Vibhu Agarwal said, “We welcome the new guidelines on OTT by the Union Ministry and will definitely agree and abide by it. However, I have realised that people will still not be silenced. In a country like India, it is difficult to please everybody. However, being part of the industry, we will adhere to the norms set out but request the ministry to then provide us their support, protection, and surety if there are still questions raised at us.”
Grapes Digital National Business Head Rajeesh Rajagopalan said that the new regulatory framework brings OTT players under censorship. “Today with the reach of these platforms, OTT is on its way to replace TV as we know it. Which means regulation was expected. This will massively change the way content is created on the internet. As it stands today self-regulation by OTT platforms haven’t really worked, and in the absence of a redressal system various groups have gone to court to pull down content because it hurts certain sentiments.”
He also said that the OTT platforms will face the heat depending upon the kind of content that they produce. “With guardrails of religion, national integration, etc means it will give the regulatory body to censor any content which does not fall under the framework of approved content or which they think is a propaganda against the government.”
Makani Creatives MD and Co-Founder Sameer Makani stated, "The regulation on will help in streamlining the platforms that have misused unregulated space with unsuitable content. It will largely enable viewers to make informed choices about what content they would like to consume. This will enable the viewers in identifying the fake news with the accountability of the publishers. Overall, such regulations are necessary to bring the change and eliminate the turmoil caused by uncivilized content on the OTT platforms and unauthentic news reports that may create disturbance in the community."
Elara Capital VP Karan Taurani said that the regulations will indeed create some or little level playing field vs the TV industry which was completely absent earlier.
“This will lead to consolidation or shut down of small/niche OTT apps which have always been relying upon obscene content, which will augur well for large global giant OTT’s and TV broadcaster-based OTT’s. TV broadcasters have been the oldest in India’s entertainment system have a strong track record for creating proper content with regulations as provided by Govt; this is a great opportunity for broadcasters to scale up and take advantage of the strict regulations announced on video OTT.”
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