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Consensus eludes Netflix, Amazon & others on tweak in self-regulation code sought by govt

Online streaming platforms are trying to forge a consensus on a govt suggestion that seeks to increase external oversight on grievances regarding content.

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New Delhi: Streaming platforms are trying to form a consensus on the government’s observations about the self-regulation code devised by the industry, as some players such as Amazon Prime Video, Netflix and MX Player are learnt to be against the suggestion of increasing external oversight in the redressal of grievances regarding the content they host. 

The latest draft of the self-regulation code — drafted by industry body Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) that was signed by 15 players in September — calls for a grievance redressal mechanism largely composed of company representatives. According to this set-up, the appellate tier would include two company representatives and one “independent” member to be empanelled by the firm. 

However, the government has suggested that the appellate tier comprise an independent panel on the lines of one proposed in an earlier draft of the code. This proposal — which called for the inclusion of a retired judge and government representative — was excluded after it was shot down by multiple streaming platforms.

The government concerns were conveyed to the platforms by the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (I&B), which now oversees them, through a letter to the IAMAI in September.

Industry sources said stakeholders who are part of the IAMAI are yet to arrive at a consensus on the way forward on this. The stakeholders, sources added, are working to reach a consensus among all members, so that the code can be rolled out at the earliest. 

“We plan to have a couple of more meetings and hope to arrive at a resolution at the earliest,” an industry source associated with one of the platforms said.

Industry sources told ThePrint that the concerns raised by the platforms include fears that the government may come up with “more impositions” if this proposal is agreed to. 

ThePrint reached the media communication departments of Netflix and Amazon Prime for comment by email, but there was no response till the time of publishing this report. MX Player CEO Karan Bedi said the platform looks “forward to working with the (I&B) Ministry to implement our industry’s self-regulation efforts”. 

“As responsible content creators, we want to ensure this act not only takes cognisance of the nature of content being released, but also ensures that we safeguard creativity in this rapidly growing sector,” he added. 

Also Read: Why OTT and cloud services in India should not be subjected to licensing regimes

Rushing towards self-regulation

The streaming industry is trying to finalise its self-regulation code as soon as possible to preclude any prospect of intervention by the government or courts in content regulation. Streaming platforms have ushered in a new era of content in India, pushing the boundaries in an entertainment landscape where, for example, television channels have been known to beep any mention of sex. 

The content is not bound by any regulation right now. With some programmes — including Sacred Games and Leila on Netflix — drawing ire for allegedly hurting the sentiments of different groups, there have been calls to bring them under some form of regulatory framework.

Through a notification issued by the Cabinet Secretariat on 9 November, all online curated content providers (OCCPs) and digital news platforms were brought under the ambit of the I&B ministry. 

While the government has yet to plan a roadmap on how exactly to regulate the OCCPs, industry sources said this development has further necessitated the need to roll out the self-regulation code at the earliest.

There are currently 35 streaming platforms operating in India, of which 15 have signed the self-regulation code, the Universal Self-Regulation Code for OCCPs.

Apart from the grievance redressal mechanism, the government has also taken exception to the fact that the code does not explicitly state what comprises prohibited content.

Also read: Coming soon on Netflix, Amazon, Disney+ Hotstar — warnings with smoking scenes

‘Concerns being discussed’

In its letter to the IAMAI, among other things, the government noted that having one independent member in the proposed grievance redressal mechanism was inadequate representation.

An earlier version of the self regulation code that was signed by five companies — Disney+ Hotstar, Jio, SonyLIV, Voot and Eros — had called for the formation of an independent adjudicatory council to decide on consumer complaints.

The proposed Digital Content Complaint Council (DCCC) was to be headed by a retired judge and include representation from the government and the entertainment industry. However, the proposal was scrapped after certain players such as Netflix and Zee5 opted out of it

An industry source associated with one of the platforms said the players had objected to setting up a body on the lines of the Broadcasting Content Complaints Council (BCCC) or the News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA), which oversee alleged violations by general entertainment channels and news channels, respectively. 

A second industry source from another platform said some firms are objecting to the government’s proposal because the video streaming industry can’t be compared to a “linear broadcasting model like television, which is regulated by BCCC”. 

It is a standard practice in any listed company to appoint an independent member on the board, the source added. 

“There have been a series of discussions on this. Some fear that there could be more such impositions by the government if every point is agreed to. There are other stakeholders such as cable operators, distribution platforms who are working against the OTT industry,” the source said. 

“We are discussing how these concerns can be mutually addressed to reach a common ground,” the source added.

TV vs streaming

Experts say content on streaming platforms cannot be subject to the same kind of norms as television because it would hit at the very appeal of the medium.

Apar Gupta, executive director of the Internet Freedom Foundation, an NGO working in the realm of digital rights advocacy, said self-regulation for video streaming platforms is different from TV as they differ on scripting choices, entertainment and content diversity.

“The usage pattern is also different from TV as it is more private and has preset programmes,” he said.

Gupta said a TV-style self-regulatory code for OTT platforms can result in the same outcome in terms of decreased diversity and artistic expression.

“The impact of self regulation on creativity and expression is through a system of self-censorship that consolidates over time. It’s an exercise in risk and liability mitigation which is inherently limiting for creativity and diversity of content,” he added.

Also Read: Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hotstar, digital news media brought under I&B ministry jurisdiction


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