Govt tightens grip over OTT content, allows self-regulation but under MIB oversight

The government on Thursday released Code of Ethics and self-regulation mechanism for video streaming services – popularly known as the over-the-top (OTT) players – that will have a far reaching effect on the sector.

The code is part of the draft Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, which the government is expected to notify soon.

While allowing for self-regulation, the government has tightened its grip over the redressal mechanism by forming a three-tier structure, where the individual players will have only one level of self-regulation mechanism.

Under the new structure, the second level will be a self-regulatory body, headed by a retired judge of a high court or Supreme Court. The judge will have to be appointed from a panel prepared by the ministry, and have up to six other members, who can be experts from the field of media, broadcasting, technology and entertainment.

Ultimately, there will be an oversight mechanism, where the government will designate an authorised officer who will have power of blocking access of content.

There will also be an inter-departmental committee, consisting of representatives from the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, the Ministry of Women & Child Development, Ministry of Law & Justice, Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology, Ministry of External Affairs, Ministry of Defence, the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team and other ministries and organisations.

This committee will meet periodically and hear complaints regarding violation or contravention of the Code of Ethics. It can also take up cases suo moto, or if any matter is referred by the ministry.

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The self-regulatory body, as well as the oversight committee have been given powers to give warning, censuring, admonishing or reprimanding players for content.

The OTT platforms can be asked to issue an apology, include a warning card or a disclaimer, reclassify ratings of relevant content, make appropriate modification, or even take it down.

Legal experts believe that this oversight mechanism is being created without any clear legislative backing and will now increasingly perform functions similar to those played by the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting for the television sector under the Cable Television Network Rules.

The Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) had come up with a self-regulatory code with a two-tier structure in September last year and had released an implementation toolkit for the due to lack of a comprehensive complaint redressal system and absence of a third-party monitoring mechanism.

ET had on January 26 reported that the government was planning to introduce broad content guidelines for the sector.

As per I&B ministry insiders, the government essentially wanted a non-partisan two-tier structure that could be housed in the ministry and have representatives from the civil society and judiciary as well.

Following Bihar CM Nitish Kumar and Madhya Pradesh CM Shivraj Chouhan’s letters asking for OTT content to be regulated, now Jal shakti minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat has written to I&B ministry asking for some regulation on OTT content concerning violence that he has claimed, is influencing youth of the country negatively. As the ministry gets guidelines for OTT platforms ready, fifty one MPs including Sonal Mansinh, Manish Poddar, Sridevi Patel and Subhash Chandra have written to the ministry seeking response on the way forward.

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