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Cable TV code could be the model as Modi govt drafts guidelines for OTT content

The central government’s guidelines for OTT content could be largely borrowed from the programme code prescribed under the Cable TV Network Rules, 1994, senior government officials told ThePrint.

Among other things, the Union Ministry of Information & Broadcasting is empowered to take action against channels for violations of the code, which lays down broad guidelines for content that shouldn’t be aired.

Regulation of OTT content has been a hot-button issue for a while now. Content on streaming platforms is currently not subject to any regulation, and the matter blows up every time a series or movie on OTT services is found “offensive” by a section of society. The Amazon Prime series Tandav is a recent example.

The OTT platforms, which were brought under the I&B Ministry last year, also came together to form a self-regulatory code that was signed by 15 services in 2020.

However, in January, Union Information & Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar said the government is soon going to bring out some guidelines for OTT platforms since it has been receiving “a lot of complaints” against some of the content they stream.

Films and web series streamed on OTT platforms, he noted, do not come under the purview of any regulatory framework like the Press Council Act and the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act or the Central Board of Film Certification.

Sources in the government said the content code is still being finalised and discussions are under way on whether some of its provisions could be OTT-specific — such as designating age classifications, providing content description, or other access control measures.

“The programme code is a good template to follow,” a senior government official told ThePrint.

A second official said there are also talks of setting up an “inter-ministerial committee kind of body” — as present in the Cable TV Network Rules — to take a call over specific complaints on OTT content.

While some broad guidelines could be introduced soon as an immediate measure in the backdrop of “multiple complaints and cases filed over films and series released on video streaming platforms”, the idea is to make legislative changes in the next few months for online content, sources said.

The sources said the Ministry of Electronics and IT (MeiTY) will also be involved to ensure compliance to the guidelines by the platforms since OTT content is streamed over the internet. This can involve framing of some specific new rules, they added. It is not clear yet if the guidelines will also apply to online news.

ThePrint reached the I&B ministry spokesperson by email with queries about the guidelines but they refused to comment.

Sources from several streaming platforms said the government is yet to hold consultations with them over what the guidelines would be. The Print

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