SELF-REGULATION FOR ONLINE CURATED CONTENT PROVIDERS – SIMPLIFIED AND SUMMARIZED

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I. Introduction to ‘Code of Best Practices for Online Curated Content Providers’ and ‘Self Regulation for Online Curated Content Providers’.

At the start of 2019, the Internet and Mobile Association of India (“IAMAI”) had introduced a document titled ‘Code of Best Practices for Online Curated Content Providers’ which was signed by OTT platforms such as Netflix, Hotstar, Voot, Zee5, Arre, SonyLIV, ALT Balaji and Eros Now.

A summary of the document can be found at the end of this write up.

The IAMAI has now introduced a new code ‘Self Regulation for Online Curated Content Providers’ which is available here (Note- this may not be the final version. I wasn’t able trace the document online elsewhere) as a second tier (Tier II) to the existing Code.

A summary of the document can be found at the end of this write up.

As reported, video streaming platforms such as Hotstar, Voot, SonyLiv, Eros, and Reliance Jio have signed to add a second tier to self-regulation for OTT space.

The Digital Content Complaint Council to be instituted under the Tier II code shall be chaired by retired Justice A. P. Shah along with other members.

II. Concerns raised by potential signatories of ‘Self Regulation for Online Curated Content Providers’.

However, certain platforms such as Netflix, AltBalaji, Arre, MX Player and Zee5 wrote to IAMAI expressing their dissent to the Tier II code. Their e-mail highlighted the following concerns which were replied to by the IAMAI and can be read here:

  • Recall or postpone the code: Some parties wrote to IAMAI sighting lack of transparency and due process a reason to recall or postpone the code.
  • Concerns about process: The code was shared by IAMAI only with signatories of the previous code and not all members of IAMAI, this process was found to be non-participatory.
  • False representation as an ‘industry code’: The code has only a few signatories and therefore should not be projected as an industry code when majority of the industry had not signed on it.

III. What’s new with the ‘Self Regulation for Online Curated Content Providers’?

What’s new with the introduction of the Tier II to the Code?

  • Parental control: The new code shall provide tools to ensure parental/ access controls such as passwords/PIN to restrict access to content suitable for adult viewing only.
  • Complaints from Government entity: The signatories to the new code explicitly agree to receive complaints from any government entity, unlike its predecessor which only authorized the Ministry of Information and Broadcast and the MEITY to forward complaints.
  • Complaints redressal mechanism: As a second tier measure, a new body known as the Digital Content Complaints Council is being set up to aid the complainants grievance.
  • Jurisdiction of DCCC: The DCCC shall look into complaints related to: (i) Content; (ii)   Incorrect Age-classification; (iii) Incorrect Content Descriptor; and (iv) Parental and/or Access controls.
  • Penalties: The DCCC can impose penalties (in the rarest cases) to a maximum of Rs. 3 lakh on violating signatories.

IV. What isn’t clear under the ‘Self Regulation for Online Curated Content Providers’?

There are also some questions that arise on reading the code (Tier II) which are unanswered or open to interpretation or simply to be addressed when the situation so arises:

  • Since it is not mandatory for an OCCP to sign this code. What about the grievance of people against the content provided by such non-signatories? How effective is the remedy there?
  • What if there is a delay in the redressal mechanism prescribed above? Since the airing of content is communication to public and if the matter isn’t remedied in time, irreparable damage will be done to the complainant.
  • There is no mention of a second to the chairman, leaving room for an unnecessary stand still in the event such an unfortunate moment arrives.
  • Whether the two OCCP members forming part of the DCCC will have any added benefit/ knowledge about the other OCCPs.
  • Since the OCCP members will not be entitled to any sitting fee, reimbursement, traveling expense, etc. What is the real incentive for such OCCP to incur any such expense every 2 months?

V. Is the ‘Self Regulation for Online Curated Content Providers’ required?

The Tier-II code has been compared with the ‘Self-Regulation Content Guidelines for Non-News and Current Affairs Television Channels’ issued by the Indian Broadcast Foundation (“IBF”) and the DCCC (Digital Content Complaints Committee) with BCCC (Broadcasting Content Complaints Council).

The guidelines issued by the IBF were not welcome with open arms by all members of the industry.

Principles mentioned in the self-regulations guidelines issued by the IBF are as under:

a) Programs to be categorized as per the following categories (each having their own guidelines):

  • Guidelines to prevent excessive exhibition of Crime and Violence in TV programmes.
  • Guidelines to prevent excessive exhibition of Sex, obscenity and Nudity
  • Guidelines to prevent excessive exhibition of Horror and Occult.
  • Guidelines to prevent excessive exhibition of Drugs, Tobacco, Alcohol and Smoking etc.
  • Guidelines to prevent misrepresentation of any religion or community and the related aspects or feeling.
  • Guidelines to prevent excessive exhibition of harmful activities and offendable activities.
  • Guidelines to safeguard Indian Sovereignty, Indian constitution and related aspects

b) Active step should be taken to protect minors.

c) Content should be broadly divided into two categories i.e. (G) for general viewing and (R) for restricted viewing.

d) Restricted content to be made available only between 11pm to 5am.

It is feared that too much censorship/ regulation could affect the creative liberty of the content writers/ producers and that in turn will affect the viewership of the OTT platforms.

Additionally, too much censorship would mean people would opt to view uncensored content via torrents thereby increasing piracy. It cannot be argued that a mature content has not found a sustainable audience/ consumer base in India.

Participation in the Tier-II code without considering its long term effects (economical and societal) would not be advisable. The digital content platforms are the only unregulated story tellers and even then, they have managed to keep in check through their own initiatives the concerns of a consumer’s quench for newer bolder content and the society’s concern for culture and kids.

A. Summary – Code of Best Practices for Online Curated Content Providers

A short summary of the Code is provided hereunder:

I. Applicability

The code does not apply to

(i) providers that make available user generated content and

(ii) intermediaries that provide access to repertoire of Online Curated Content Providers.

II. Objective

(i) empower consumer to make informed choice on age-appropriate content.

(ii) safeguard and respect creative freedom of content creators and artists.

(iii) provide a mechanism for complaints redressal in relation to content made available.

III. Prohibited Content

(i) content that deliberately disrespects the national emblem and/or national flag.

(ii) content showcasing a child engaged in any form of sexual activity or any representation of the sexual parts of a child for primarily sexual purpose.

(iii) content which deliberately intends to outrage religious sentiments.

(iv) content which deliberately encourages terrorism or other forms of violence.

(v) content that has been banned for exhibition by online video service under applicable law.

IV. Best Practice for Sensitive Content

(i) classify content in separate and distinct categories.

(ii) display a content descriptor or guidance message that informs the viewer of nature of content.

V. Complaints redressal

Institute department to receive and address any consumer complaints and adherence to the Code.

Contact details of the department to be made available on the application and its corporate website.

VI. Reporting and Redressal Process

(i) Aggrieved person may file a complaint before the Department.

(ii) Aggrieved person to submit relevant details.

(iii) Department to acknowledge the complaint within 3 working days from receipt of complaint.

(iv) Department to evaluate complaint.

(v) In the event the complaint is consistent with the Code, Department to provide a suitable reply within 10 working days from the date of receipt of the complaint. If more time is required, Department should communicate the same to the aggrieved person, timeline cannot be extended beyond 30 days.

(vi) In the event of violation of the Code, Department to discuss remedial measures with internal stake holders and communicate the same to the aggrieved person not later than 30 days from the receipt of complaint.

(vii) Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology, Government of India may forward any complaint to the Department of respective OCC providers.

B. Tabular summary – Self Regulation for Online Curated Content Providers- view here.

Image source: here

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