Leading OTT players meet to discuss Govt’s Code of Ethics for OTT & Digital Media
After the Government announced the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021 for OTT and Digital Media last week, leading OTT players met yesterday (March 1, 2021) to deliberate on the implications of these Code of Ethics.
The Economic Times has reported that meeting was held under the aegis of the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), where the OTT players also mulled over whether IAMAI should be nominated as sole regulatory body with the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.
As reported earlier, IAMAI had finalised as set of guidelines under its ‘implementation toolkit’ for the OTT industry, taking a step towards self-regulation. According to a FICCI release, the self-regulation code issued by the IAMAI had mandated each OCCP (online curated content provider) to set-up a Consumer Complaints Department and/or an internal committee as well as an advisory panel to deal with complaints, appeals and escalations. However, the Government was not satisfied and had directed IAMAI to consider other regulatory models. The Government was of the view that the code lacked independent third-party monitoring. Besides, it does not have a well-defined code of ethics and fails to enunciate prohibited content adequately.
IAMAI had recently agreed to a Universal Self-Regulatory code with MIB, which has been adopted by 17 of the leading online curated content platforms in the country. “The self-regulatory code, which is under implementation, effectively delivers on the goal of providing strong consumer protection, while delivering a solid foundation for content providers to build from,” IAMAI said in a statement issued.
IAMAI in its statement expressed its dismay over some media reports stating that the Government intends to notify guidelines for OTT streaming platforms shortly. “The industry has been working collectively to formalise transparent and stringent guidelines for self-regulation, but has been completely perturbed by the lack of any consultative process administered with the stakeholders that usually precedes such guidelines or regulations,” IAMAI had said.
However, after the Government announced the new Code of Ethics, Dr Subho Ray, President, IAMAI, said, “IAMAI has welcomed the much awaited Intermediary Guidelines 2021. The Guidelines, focused primarily on consumer complaint, will help consumers of online curated content, social media users and online news and current affairs resolve their complaints in a process oriented manner.”
While finalising these Rules, both the Ministries of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITY) and Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) undertook elaborate consultations among themselves in order to have a harmonious, soft-touch oversight mechanism in relation to social media platform as well as digital media and OTT platforms, etc.
Rules about digital media and OTT focus more on in-house and self-regulation mechanism, whereby a robust grievance redressal mechanism has been provided while upholding journalistic and creative freedom. The guidelines seek to address peoples’ varied concerns while removing any misapprehension about curbing creativity and freedom of speech and expression.
Digital Media Ethics Code Relating to Digital Media and OTT Platforms to Be Administered by Ministry of Information and Broadcasting:
There have been widespread concerns about issues relating to digital contents both on digital media and OTT platforms. Civil Society, film makers, political leaders including Chief Minister, trade organisations and associations have all voiced their concerns and highlighted the imperative need for an appropriate institutional mechanism. The Government also received many complaints from civil society and parents requesting interventions. There were many court proceedings in the Supreme Court and High Courts, where courts also urged the Government to take suitable measures.
Since the matter relates to digital platforms, therefore, a conscious decision was taken that issues relating to digital media and OTT and other creative programmes on Internet shall be administered by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting but the overall architecture shall be under the Information Technology Act, which governs digital platforms.
The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting held consultations in Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai over the last one and a half years, wherein OTT players have been urged to develop “self-regulatory mechanism”. The Government also studied the models in other countries, including Singapore, Australia, EU and UK and has gathered that most of them either have an institutional mechanism to regulate digital content or are in the process of setting-up one.
The Rules establish a soft-touch self-regulatory architecture and a Code of Ethics and 3-Tier grievance redressal mechanism for news publishers and OTT Platforms and digital media.
Notified under section 87 of Information Technology Act, these Rules empower the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to implement Part - III of the Rules, which prescribe the following:
Code of Ethics for online news, OTT platforms and digital media: This Code of Ethics prescribe the guidelines to be followed by OTT platforms and online news and digital media entities.
Self-Classification of Content: The OTT platforms, called as the publishers of online curated content in the rules, would self-classify the content into five age based categories - U (Universal), U/A 7+, U/A 13+, U/A 16+, and A (Adult). Platforms would be required to implement parental locks for content classified as U/A 13+ or higher, and reliable age verification mechanisms for content classified as “A”. The publisher of online curated content shall prominently display the classification rating specific to each content or programme together with a content descriptor informing the user about the nature of the content, and advising on viewer description (if applicable) at the beginning of every programme enabling the user to make an informed decision, prior to watching the programme.