As per the Indian Government, the “self-regulation code” formed by the OTT players is too vague to accept.
India has seen significant growth in Online Curated Content Providers (OCCP) or OTT (over the top media service) platforms in the last five years. High internet penetration and coronavirus-imposed lockdown in March-April also encouraged more viewers to subscribe to online streaming services. At present, as many as 15 leading and 20 other small OTT platforms are providing content in India. OTT platforms’ variety of content has diversified manifold in the last couple of years, but self-regulation remains a major problem.
Self-Regulation Code drags Netflix, Amazon and other OTT platforms down a rabbit hole.
The leading OTT platforms have prepared a code of conduct, but it doesn’t define restricted content areas as per the government guidelines. the Indian government expects an explicit list of prohibited and censored content. It tells that certain subjects can’t be broadcast on the streaming services, but the code doesn’t go deep down to list details of them. And this remains a cause for concern for the government.
Troubled Waters for Content Platforms
Recently, the code again landed into troubled waters with the government re-insisting that the explicit listing of the prohibited and restricted content should be done soon. Though OTT platforms differ among themselves on some clauses of self-regulation code, talks are on to find a common solution between them. “It is not easy to know what will be an acceptable solution to it. Discussions are going on to know how to address the issue. But some platforms are against the move,” a source said.
Earlier in March, Netflix and Zee5 had differences with Disney+ Hotstar and Sony LIV on some points of the self-regulation code. After months of dilly-dallying, 15 OTT platforms came together last month to sign a Universal Self-Regulation Code. The code focused on two things — ombudsman model and setting up a grievance redressal system to address consumer complaints regarding ‘violations’ in content. It was the same move which was earlier opposed by the likes of Netflix and Zee5.
The leading OTT platforms who adopted the new code were — Netflix, Disney+ Hotstar, Zee5, Amazon Prime Video, Jio Cinema, Viacom 18, MX Player, Alt Balaji, Hungama, Eros Now, HoiChoi, Arre, Discovery Plus, Shemaroo, and Flickstree.
Definition of Restricted Content
The current version of the code is the third one with the first two failing to reach a consensus. There were multiple issues between Netflix, Hotstar, Amazon Prime and a couple of other OTT platforms. Unlike the movie industry, which has its strict self-regulatory code, streaming services in India are in a nascent stage. It is yet to come up with a widely-accepted code which can be used for at least some years, if not for a decade or two.
Watch: Netflix Chief on Self-Regulation
The new code highlights it again that OTT platforms must provide content descriptions, age ratings and parental control. The code also says that OTT platforms can’t stream content which is not permitted under the Indian Penal Code, Code of Criminal Procedure and Information Technology Act 2000.
What is the government’s objection?
The code though has provision to not allow content prohibited under strict Indian laws, it doesn’t explicitly mention the list of restricted content. This is the area objectionable to the government.
The only clarity the code gives on restricted material is — content banned by courts; that disrespects the national emblem and flag, promotes terrorism or violence against the state; shows children in sexual acts; or which ‘promotes and encourages disrespect to the sovereignty and integrity of India’. However, this is just the nature of content as the explicit list of content is not mentioned in the code.
The government reportedly said that the current code is not what it was expecting and listing all the restricted content should be an essential part of the code.
What are OTT platforms’ objections?
OTT platforms say that government in its objection cites selective examples of self-regulation in Singapore, UK and Malaysia where sensibilities of the population are different from India. They say different parameters should be expected from Indian OTT platforms.
Some streaming services say that more government intervention will invite more regulations in future.
A source said since streaming services are already adhering to the land of laws, there is no need to have a separate explicit list. A OTT platforms official defending himself said that age and classification, parental control, categorization and storyline of content is already mentioned against the content. Therefore, the audience can use its discretion to watch or avoid content.
What Could be the Way Out
Internet and Mobile Association of India, which is drafting the self-regulatory code, reportedly said that the general consensus is to list out the laws of the land to address the prohibited content under it.
Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar said that he had called the OTT platforms twice but they were yet to come up with a proposal for the code.
In a scenario like this, where the minister is taking a personal interest in self-regulation of streaming platforms, OTT platforms can’t ignore the government. Even if they are not coming up with an explicit list of prohibited content, they should prepare a code which is an alignment with most of the government guidelines.
Bonus Watch: Is Self-Regulations by OTT Platforms Enough?