From Netflix to Amazon, OTT players finalise regulation rulebook

Content regulation will be around age gating and parental controls, depending on how violence or sex is depicted. Whether content is free or paid will also be a key factor in regulation
Ahead of the likely government guidelines for over-the-top (OTT) players, some 17 companies, including Netflix, Amazon, Hotstar-Disney, Zee5 and Voot, have endorsed a code of conduct. This will form the basis for self-regulating the content generated by OTT platforms in India.

The code, finalised by the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), has suggested a two-stage grievance and complaint redressal structure.

Confirming the development, Gourav Rakshit, co-chair of the digital entertainment committee at IAMAI and COO of Voot, said 17 online curated content providers had signed up on the tool kit to implement the code of conduct. “There are 40 OTT players. We hope more will join in. Our plan is to implement it from August as companies will take some time to prepare,” said Rakshit.

First, a committee comprising company executives will hear the complaint and come to a decision. If not satisfied, the complainant can go to an ombudsman forum which will have two company officials and two independent experts with veto power. If still not satisfied, she can move court or approach the government.

Content regulation will be around age gating and parental controls, depending on how violence or sex is depicted. Whether content is free or paid will also be a key factor in regulation.

The move follows a recent government notification on OTT regulation. It said the ministry of information and broadcasting would have a regulatory oversight on OTT content.

Discussions are on for the IAMAI to create a panel of independent advisors for transparency, Rakshit pointed out. If this works, OTT channels will pay a subscription to IAMAI, which in turn would hire advisors.

The issue of control over OTT channels has been brewing with many sections complaining that “creative independence” was being used as an excuse to push through objectionable content. The matter came to a head after Amazon Prime’s web series Tandav got caught in a recent controversy over allegations of religious sentiments getting hurt. The director removed two scenes and issued an unconditional apology after discussions with the I&B ministry.

A co-regulatory model of content, expected in the case of OTT, is not new in the country. Such a model would imply that companies would put together a code and ensure its compliance through self-regulation, while the government continues to oversee with powers to take action including cancellation of licence. In television content, for instance, the apex body — Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) — wrote a common code of conduct to regulate content, which was accepted by most players. To ensure compliance, it created an independent Broadcasting Content Complaint Council (BCCC).

In advertising too, the same function is undertaken by Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI)— a body which has advertisers, advertising agencies and even PR agencies as members and takes action against false and misleading advertisements. While it does not have any statutory powers to take action, its record of compliance of its orders has been pretty high.

With the amendment in the Consumer Protection Act, a new body — Central Consumer Protection Authority — has also been given powers to regulate advertising and even punish offenders with jail terms and financial penalties. ASCI now is working as a co-regulator with the government.

In the OTT space, however, the government has not pushed for any licensing regime like for broadcasters. Also, the planned structure of redressal does not envisage a third party independent structure like BCCC. According to Rakshit, the reason for this is the huge volume of content (nearly 1 million hours) generated, requiring a different structure.

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