OTT Platforms: New Self-Regulation Code vs Feb’s Disputed Version

15 streaming platforms including Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney+ Hotstar have adopted IAMAI’s self-regulation code

Updated
Entertainment
5 min read
Fifteen streaming platforms, including Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+ Hotsar, have adopted the“Universal Self-Regulation Code for OCCPs”
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“Compromise and adjust.”

These words of advice by Sima Taparia from Netflix’s hit show ‘Indian Matchmaking’ would apply equally to the Online Curated Content industry’s quest for self-regulation.

Fifteen streaming platforms, including Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+ Hotsar, have adopted a new updated code of self-regulation to preempt government censorship.

The streaming platforms, referred to as ‘Online Curated Content providers’ (OCCP) in the code titled “Universal Self-Regulation Code for OCCPs” have agreed to a slew of updated measures. These include a modified grievance redressal mechanism, elimination of a stifling ‘prohibited content’ list as well as of penalties for violation of the code.

The present set of signatories include Zee5, Viacom 18, Disney+ Hotstar, Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, MX Player, Jio Cinema, Eros Now, Alt Balaji, Arre, HoiChoi, Hungama, Shemaroo, Discovery Plus, and Flickstree.

This code, unveiled by the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) on 4 September and accessed by The Quint, is the most unanimous thus far among all the previous attempts at a self-regulatory code for streaming platforms.

HAVE THERE BEEN PREVIOUS VERSIONS OF A SELF-REGULATION CODE?

Indeed. The current version is the third code presented by the IAMAI in consultation with streaming companies. Here’s how attempts at self-regulation have progressed:

January 2019: Code of Best Practices for Online Curated Content Providers. This version was adopted by nine of thirty members including Netflix, Hotstar, Zee5, SonyLIV, ALT Balaji.

February 2020: Self Regulation for Online Curated Content Providers. This version ran into major pushbacks from the industry, with only five platforms including Jio Cinema, SonyLIV, Disney+ Hotstar signing up.

September 2020: Universal Self-Regulation Code for Online Curated Content. Providers unveiled on 4 September and adopted by 15 members.

HOW DID WE ARRIVE AT THIS SELF-REGULATION CODE?

Previous versions of codes of best practices and self-regulation, published in January 2019 and February 2020, were met with mixed acceptance by streaming platforms amid serious disagreements pertaining to the grievance redressal mechanism, inadequate consultations and some stringent restrictions on content.

Among major departures from the previous version of the code, presented in February and signed by only five IAMAI member platforms, is the replacement of the proposed nine-member Digital Content Complaints Council (DCCC) with a three -member advisory council.

This Tier-II industry level DCCC was to be headed by former Chief Justice of Delhi High Court, Justice (Retd) AP Shah and had the authority to penalise platforms up to Rs 3 lakh for recurring violations and take suo moto cognisance of complaint .

Shortly after the presentation of the February version which only saw five platforms sign on to it, the Union Information & Broadcast Ministry had given the industry 100 days to finalise a code of self-regulation and create an adjudicatory authority.

WHY A SELF REGULATION CODE BY STREAMING PLATFORMS?

As online content expands and grows across the country and across age groups, spurred by the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, its unfettered streaming across platforms has attracted renewed attention from the government, political parties, legal advisors and consumers.

With the axe of government regulation dangling above the platforms, a leading streaming platform told The Quint that this code has been jointly developed by companies keeping in mind ‘consumer empowerment and artistic expression’.

Tarun Katial, CEO of ZEE5 and Chair, Digital Entertainment Committee, IAMAI, said in a statement, “The Universal Self-Regulation Code for OCCPs is built around a shared belief that consumer empowerment and creative excellence are key to the long-term success of the Indian entertainment industry.”

WHAT DOES THE SELF REGULATION CODE 2020 AIM TO DO?

Among the primary goals of the code is to arrive at a self-regulation mechanism that has the acceptance and adoption across the industry and among all the major players in the ecosystem.

The code lists six objectives:

  1. Protecting the interests of consumers and empowering them to make informed choices
  2. Nurturing creativity, fostering innovation and abiding by an individual’s freedom of speech and expression;
  3. Preserving independence of the creative economy
  4. Fostering responsibility in members to adhere to guiding principles
  5. Elevating professional standards by requiring OCC Providers to develop their robust standards of self-regulation;
  6. Providing consumers a mechanism for grievance redressal.

WHAT GUIDELINES HAVE BEEN ADOPTED BY PLATFORMS?

There are three guidelines that have been set out in order to meet the objectives outlined in the code.

  • A Framework for Age Classification: A standardised age rating classification in five categories: All Ages, 7+, 13+, 16+, 18+.
  • Appropriate content descriptions: Platforms agree to display a content descriptor or a guidance message specific to each programme that informs the viewer about the nature of the content and advise on viewer discretion, if applicable.
  • Appropriate access controls: The signatories to the code may, institute relevant technological tools and measures for access control such as PIN/Password to restrict/control access to content.

WHAT’S THE GRIEVANCE REDRESSAL MECHANISM LIKE?

Among the most crucial aspects of this document is the updated mechanism of grievance redressal of consumers of online curated content.

It is important to note that complaints in grievance redressal mechanism applies only to violations of the three guidelines of the code mentioned above – age classification, content description and access controls.

The code states that “the functions of this Grievance Redressal System shall be limited to addressing complaints on violation of the provisions of the Code in respect of age/ maturity rating, content descriptors (if applicable) and access control mechanisms (if applicable).”

This version proposes a three-tier system that is less demanding and stringent compared to the previous code. It requires each platform to create a three-member “advisory panel” that will serve as an appeals body within the organisation itself.

WHAT WAS THE ISSUE WITH THE PREVIOUS VERSION?

Among the major changes in the previous version of the code that was presented in February and September 2020 is with regards to the grievance redressal mechanism.

A major highlight of the February version of self-regulation was the setting up of the Digital Content Complaints Council.

In the previous version, a two-tier mechanism was proposed:
Tier-I: Digital Content Complaints Forum
Tier-II: Digital Content Complaints Council

This Tier-II code envisioned the creation of a self regulatory body (DCCC) led by retired Supreme Court or High Court judge (Justice AP Shah’s name was put forward) as an independent body which can receive content-related complaints from the government and consumers, impose fines of up to ₹3 lakh, reclassify ratings of relevant content, ask for the inclusion of disclaimers.

However, this Tier-II Code received fierce backlash from the streaming industry, many finding it unacceptable. Only five out of around 30 of its own Media & Entertainment committee members have signed up:  Disney+ Hotstar, Reliance Jio, SonyLIV, Network18 and Eros.

Netflix, Zee5, Arre and ALTBalaji, who had signed up for a previous version of the code (Tier 1) had opted out.

According to a report by Medianama, at a video conference organised by IAMAI on 18 March, “One of the main bones of contention was how few companies had actually been involved in creating the Tier 2 code, even though it was presented by the IAMAI to the ministry and the public at large, as a curated content industry code.”

WHAT ABOUT PROHIBITED CONTENT?

Another major departure from the two previous iterations of the code is that this version does not specify a list of content that is prohibited.

The list outlined in the February version had drawn flak for overbroad, vague language that could have a chilling effect on free speech and freedom of artistic expression.

These prohibitions included content which:

  1. Promotes and encourages disrespect to the sovereignty and integrity of India
  2. Represents a child engaged in real or simulated sexual activities
  3. Promotes and encourages terrorism and other forms of violence against the State (of India) or its institutions
  4. Has been banned for exhibition or distribution by online video service under applicable laws or by any court of competent jurisdiction.

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