'Can strike right balance if MIB doesn't overregulate & OTTs don't overstep the line'

Industry experts share their thoughts on the government's decision to bring OTT content under the MIB's ambit

e4m by Javed Farooqui
Updated: Nov 12, 2020 8:35 AM

With the government handing over the control of regulating over the top (OTT) content to the ministry of information & broadcasting (MIB), OTT players hope that the ministry will strike a balance between creative freedom and ensuring that content providers don't overstep the line.

The government today amended the allocation of business rules to bring OTT content and online news platforms under the purview of the MIB. Earlier, both content and technical aspects of the OTT platforms were under the purview of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) through the Information Technology (IT) Act, 2000.

With the fresh amendment, MIB will get to regulate online content while MeitY will continue to regulate the technical aspect of OTT platforms.

TMT Law Practice Managing Partner Abhishek Malhotra said that the amendment is a precursor to the issuance of content guidelines for OTT. "It seems like a precursor to the intended issuance of a notification to regulate online content but right now that has not been done. There was some amount of conflict whether online content will be governed by MIB or MeitY. The latter was trying to get control over online content regulation but finally, it has been decided that it will go to MIB," he stated.

Malhotra added, "The content part of the platform is governed by MIB but the technology and the purely technical aspects of the OTT platforms will continue to be governed by IT Act."

"2020 has been a year full of changes, to say the least, and while we are approaching closer to welcoming 2021, this news coming in from the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting has introduced another one. These new guidelines and regulations might prove detrimental in helping the OTT industry grow. OTT and video streaming platforms are still at a very nascent stage, especially in India, which makes it highly crucial that these guidelines not infringe on their organic progress and their core values. As long as content creators and digital platforms can practice their full imaginative and creative potentials, the new regulations will only add value," said Heeru Dingra CEO WATConsult.

Giving an OTT platform's perspective, MX Player CEO Karan Bedi said that the ministry should safeguard the creative freedom of OTT players. “We look forward to working with the ministry to implement our industry's self-regulation efforts. As responsible content creators, we want to ensure this act not only takes cognisance of the nature of the content being released but also ensures that we safeguard creativity in this rapidly growing sector," he said.

Yupp TV CEO Uday Reddy is of the opinion that OTT players should not overstep the line in the name of creative freedom while the bureaucracy should not indulge in over-regulation.

"In the beginning, when there was no regulation, the idea was to allow creativity for the creation of quality content. But there are some platforms that stretched a lot. Culturally, India is not ready for that type of content. That might one of the reasons for the steps taken by the government," Reddy elucidated.

"If some kind of discipline comes in the market, then we can go back and discuss with the government to not regulate. There could be a right balance wherein government doesn't over-regulate and OTT platforms don't overstep the line."

Elara Capital VP Karan Taurani believes that the government's decision will not lead to censorship. He also feels that the move will bring OTT platforms under the regulatory framework which was not the case till now.

"We believe that it may not lead to censorship of content on digital; however, the ministry may be forming some framework for regulating the OTT space. This is a mild positive for broadcasters, as the Tv segment in India is highly regulated (pricing, content, license, advertising) vs OTT, which has no regulation until now," Taurani stated.

He also noted that the decision will not have any impact on foreign investment in the OTT segment. "Again, this would not mean discouraging global OTT giants from investing or impacting OTT negatively in a big way; however it’s a good starting point to create some sort of level playing field between traditional and digital media."

According to a senior executive with a leading TV network, the move to bring online news platforms under MIB's purview must be seen in conjunction with the recent decision to limit the FDI cap in digital news at 26%.

"The government first brought restriction on digital news platforms by capping FDI at 26%. That is the investment part. Now coming to the content part, there was confusion as to who has the power to regulate online content whether it is MIB or MeitY. That power has been given to MIB. Just like programme and advertising codes for broadcasting, they are going to come out with a content code for OTT," the executive said on condition of anonymity.

He further stated that there are multiple ongoing court cases across the country related to OTT content regulation. This move, he said, will also help the government to tell the courts that MIB will regulate online content.

The executive also noted that the MIB may also constitute an Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) kind of a body for online media. The IMC under MIB takes action against errant broadcasters who flout programme and advertising codes.

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