India is planning to form a self-regulatory authority that can restrict and examine inappropriate OTT content
In the last few months, a couple of Over The Top (OTT) platforms have been surrounded by controversies because of their content! Amazon Prime’s latest Indian web series, ‘Tandav’, has been caught in controversy over content deemed objectionable by some sections. That has led to calls for boycott, outright ban and, in some instances, police action in the way of filing of a First Information Report (FIR).
India is now planning to draft and legislate a comprehensive statute for OTT (over the top) platforms and news websites that will define guidelines for their self-regulation. The rising political and other content-related issues with OTT shows and movies prompted the government to examine regulatory mechanisms for OTT in other countries that suggest the need for a regulatory framework.
The aim is to address the issues of sensitive content and fake news and creating a level playing field in the business. The review of OTT-related regulation has been brought to light by several complaints that range from adult and objectionable content to regular political issues between BJP supporters and party members and producers and platforms over alleged “misrepresentation” of religious, cultural and social issues and themes.
According to government officials familiar with the matter, the issue of self-regulation in digital media was taken up at the highest levels this month. It highlighted after the controversies that sparked when the Amazon Prime series called 'Tandav' went on-air.
Countries such as Singapore have an Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) and the EU is considering recommendations of the European Council in 2019. A few other countries that have put up regulations on the OTT platforms directly or have other laws to regulate them are: (i) Australia (ii) Turkey (iii) Indonesia (iv) Kenya and (v) Saudi Arabia.
The laws on the regulation of OTT content in Singapore are handled by the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA). The media regulatory body of Singapore issued a code of practices for OTT and video-on-demand services to follow from 1 March 2018. Service providers are now required to classify their content on the same basis as offline films – a) G: for general, b) PG: for parental guidance, c) PG13: for parental guidance for children below 13, d) NC16: for no children below 16 years of age, e) M18 for mature audiences (18 and above) only, and f) R21 for content restricted to people of 21 years and above only.
The code also mentions the do’s and don’ts which the service providers should follow. They must ensure that the programs hosted by them comply with the prevailing laws of Singapore and do not undermine national or public interest and national or public security and do not undermine racial or religious harmony among others.
In Turkey, The Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTUK) is the primary body tasked with the regulation and supervision of radio, television and on-demand media services in the country. It further mandates the license holders to encrypt the audio and visual feeds, provide their access to the RTUK for remote monitoring and also share various IP licenses with the RTUK to enable broadcast recording.
For Australia, The Broadcasting Services Act, 1992 (BSA) is the principal legislation authority for OTT content. It is regulated through a complaints-based system that was introduced on 1 January 2000 and is known as the online content co-regulatory scheme. The BSA covers both content which has been classified and also content which has not been classified.
After a two-year pilot test, Netflix got the approval to self-classify its content using its own tools. A monitoring program revealed that Netflix’s tool can assess and classify content with 94% accuracy. Before, only the Australian Classification Board has been classifying both online and offline content.
In August 2017, the Indonesian government via the Ministry of Communication and Informatics (MCI) unveiled a liability framework for OTT providers. The draft MCI regulations also require online platforms to create a "censor mechanism" to filter and block "negative" content including terrorism, pornography and radical propaganda.
For the UK, In September 2018, the Director-General of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) called for a regulation on video streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon. The British Board of Film Certification announced a partnership with Netflix under which it allowed the streaming service to decide its own ratings for film and television programs.
Soon after, UK released a white paper that proposes a new regulator and a regulatory framework to ensure the online safety of British citizens. It is based on user-generated content only. The proposed regulatory framework will include – a) a mandate on the companies to tackle illegal and harmful activity on their service, b) a duty of care on the companies to take reasonable steps to keep their users safe, c) a requirement of releasing an annual transparency report by the company, and d) a mandate on the company to have an effective and easy to access user complaints function among others.
Saudi Arabia’s Anti-Cyber Crime Law (ACCL) is the country’s own law for regulating the OTT content. While it is unclear if the country has any laws dealing specifically with OTT content, the Communications and Information Technology Commission cited Article 6 of the ACCL once, and requested Netflix to remove an episode of ‘Patriot Act’ which was critical of the government, from its domestic catalogue.
With India emerging as one of the largest consumer base of OTT content and fastest-growing market in 2020, an analysis being studied by the government highlights that regulation of digital media, including OTT platforms and intermediaries, is a global trend.
There are at least 40 OTT platforms including global ones such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and HotStar (Disney Plus) and hundreds of news content websites that air content which is inappropriate to a lot of Indian audiences.
The ministry is also worried that viewers upset with the content on OTT platforms do not have a body they can appeal to, much like they do with TV companies. The ministry, the officials added, has received complaints about language and nudity.
As for digital news websites, the officials said the ministry has received complaints about fake news, but again, is restricted by the absence of a body that can listen and act on those.
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