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Saturday, 02 February 2019 10:28

OTT platforms adopt self-regulation Will follow voluntary ‘Code of Best Practices for Online Curated Content Providers’

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On 20 January 2019, leading video on demand (VoD) or over-the-top (OTT) platforms such as Netflix, Hotstar and Sony Picture Networks signed an agreement to self-regulate streamed content in India by following a voluntary code of conduct. This was a landmark step towards addressing the viewers’ concerns on disturbing visuals and dialogues as being shown through web series.

The initiative is supported by the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI). ALT Balaji, Arre, Eros Now, Jio Digital Life, Viacom18 and Zee5 also pledged to follow the new “Code of Best Practices for Online Curated Content Providers”.  

Those who did not join the chorus include Amazon Prime Video, Facebook and Google. Amazon said that its subscribers would be outraged if they know it has started to follow some industry code to censor the content.

As per new code, the streaming platforms will not release content that disrespects the national flag, offends religious sentiment, promotes or encourages terrorism or shows children engaged in real or simulated sexual acts. Also, it prohibits content that contains officially banned material and requires OTT companies to categorise content for general or universal viewing, viewing under parental guidance and to flag content considered inappropriate for minors.

A member company will acknowledge receipt of a complaint within three working days and to reply to the complainant within ten working days.

Though many activists of free speech say that the code will be a negative step towards the risks of online censorship, general viewers as well as the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (I&B) are happy that something has been done and there is nothing like self-regulation.  

The Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) said: “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 fulfil no clear policy goals. 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 larger aims of this OCC Code are:

  • Empower consumers to make informed choices on age-appropriate content; 

  • Protect the interests of consumers in choosing and accessing the content they want to watch, at their own time and convenience; 

  • Safeguard and respect creative freedom of content creators and artists; 

  • Nurture creativity, create an ecosystem fostering innovation and abide by an individual’s freedom of speech and expression; and 

  • Provide a mechanism for complaints redressal in relation to content made available by respective OCC Providers.


Regulation for other media: 

Every media platform has some kind of regulatory authority. The print media has Press Council of India (PCI); the news and current affairs broadcast has News Broadcast Standards Authority (NBSA); non-news broadcast has Broadcast Content Complaints Council (BCCC) under the Indian broadcasting Federation and advertisement sector has Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI).


Current OTT regulation:

There is no regulation as such at present to control OTT, but it is watched by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), which, as per government rules, is the ministry in charge of making policies in all matters relating to information technology, electronics and internet except licensing of Internet Service Providers. It is also in charge of matters relating to the Information Technology Act, 2000. 

Information Technology Act, 2000 as India’s primary cyber law legislation provides for punishment for new offences such as publishing or transmitting obscene materials, materials containing sexually explicit acts and materials depicting children in sexually explicit acts.

In many countries such as Japan and Canada, self-regulation is practiced by OTT platforms and analysts say that this is a better option than any government regulation or red tape to throttle or do moral policing. 


TRAI Consultation Paper:

The telecom regulator TRAI, in November 2018, had released a consultation paper seeking the views of stakeholders to bring the OTT communication services under the regulatory framework. The objective of the consultation paper is to analyse and discuss the implications of the growth of OTTs, the relationship between OTT players and telecom service providers (TSPs).

Replying to the consultation paper on OTT by the telecom regulator TRAI, many broadcasters including Star India, Sony Pictures Networks India (SPN) and Times Network said that they do not favour any further regulatory intervention on over-the-top (OTT) communication services. All three players have argued that OTTs should not be seen as a substitute for TSPs. While submitting their feedback comments on the TRAI consultation paper, the broadcasters have highlighted that although some of the services provided by OTTs may seem similar to TSPs, they have highly dissimilar nature especially when it comes to technology and revenue model. 

The major focus area of the TRAI paper is the issue regarding the relationship between OTTs and TSPs.

Distribution platform operators (DPOs) like Dish TV India and GTPL Hathway have also requested TRAI to widen the ambit of the consultation paper about the regulatory framework for over the top (OTT) communication services.

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