Major online content platforms, or over-the-top (OTT) service providers, are pushing for self-regulation in the absence of specific guidelines for such content in the country.
At least nine OTT players, including Netflix, Hotstar, Zee5, and ALT Balaji, pledged to adopt a model code, or a set of best practices for content regulation, which has been put together by the industry body Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI). The other signatories are Viacom18, Arre, Eros Now, Sony Pictures Networks, and Jio Digital Life.
The move, however, has drawn flak from certain groups for allegedly being unsuitable for an online model and having been developed without consultation with different stakeholders.
Titled the “Code of Best Practices for Online Curated Content Providers”, it lays out the prohibitions on content, and also a complaint redressal mechanism.
The code prohibits content that “deliberately and maliciously” disrespects the national emblem or the national flag; that shows children involved in real or simulated sexual acts; and that intends to outrage religious sentiments of any class, section or community.
It also prohibits content that promotes or encourages terrorism and other forms of violence against the State or its institutions, and content that has been banned for exhibition or distribution by online video service under applicable laws.
It also requires OTT players to categorize content for general or universal viewing, viewing under parental guidance, and specify the content as age-appropriate flagging those which are inappropriate for minors.
All signatories to the code have agreed to internally appoint or institute “a dedicated person/team/department to receive and address any consumer-related concerns and complaints in relation to the content of the respective providers”.
It further says a complaint can be made by an individual or the information and broadcasting ministry or the ministry of electronics and information technology, and must be acknowledged by the platform within three working days and replied within ten working days of receiving the complaint.
However, the provisions of the code have not gone down well with civil society and advocacy groups.
The IAMAI code in its current form “is super vague and leading to private censorship”, said Sarvjeet Singh, executive director, Centre for Communication Governance at National Law University, Delhi. He further pointed out that the IAMAI allowing “relevant technological tools and measures to ensure access content and/or enable parental control” was problematic because similar tools deployed by online platforms in the past had been ineffective in flagging the content.
The Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF), a non-profit advocacy group working on issues such as online censorship and information privacy, has written to the IAMAI, asking for greater transparency and public engagement.
Some media reports had earlier suggested that the I&B ministry would be supporting the censorship guidelines. The signatories said on Thursday they were in talks with the government to support the code.
“We reasonably apprehend that a model of television censorship is being incorrectly imported to the online video streaming space, which will increase censorship, impact innovation, and fulfill no clear policy goals,” the IFF said in the letter. “…To have such a measure discussed privately among a handful of existing video players and then seek endorsement from government ministries is incredibly troubling.”
The market of online streaming content is becoming bigger globally. According to a 2018 report titled “Entertainment Goes Online” released by the Boston Consulting Group, video content delivered through the Internet is expected to reach a market size of USD 5 billion or Rs 35,730 crore by 2023.
According to the data from market intelligence firm KalaGato, Netflix’s market share grew 6.3 percent in India until last October from 0.5 percent in the beginning of 2018, as the US-based streaming platform produces more local content to compete in India. Star-India owned Hotstar was the leader in the OTT space with a 30.4 percent market share until October.―Business Standard