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Self regulation code by Netflix, Disney+Hotstar & Amazon Prime runs into troubles with govt

15 OCCPs came together last month to sign a Universal Self-Regulation Code. The code revolved around the 'ombudsman model' and setting up a grievance redressal mechanism.

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New Delhi: A self regulation code signed by video streaming platforms such as Netflix, Disney + Hotstar, Amazon Prime and 12 others is learnt to have run into troubles with the government, with the latter insisting on explicitly listing out what comprises restricted or prohibited content.

Deliberations are on currently within the Online Curated Content Providers (OCCPs) to find a possible solution in the next fortnight even as the players differ in opinion from each other on the move, industry sources told ThePrint.

“It is difficult to say what will be the final solution. We are in talks over how to address this issue, given that certain platforms are against the move,” said a source.

After a delay of months prompted by differences within the nascent industry, 15 OCCPs came together last month to sign a Universal Self-Regulation Code for OCCPs. The code revolved around the “ombudsman model” and setting up a grievance redressal mechanism to address consumer complaints over “violations” in content streamed on the platforms — a move that was earlier opposed by players such as Netflix and Zee5.

The new code was adopted by 15 leading OCCPs – Zee5, Viacom 18, Disney+ Hotstar, Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, MX Player, Jio Cinema, Eros Now, Alt Balaji, Arre, HoiChoi, Hungama, Shemaroo, Discovery Plus and Flickstree.

The latest version of the code is the third one signed by the platforms. The earlier two did not work out, with the players differing with each other over multiple issues. There are around 35 video streaming platforms operating in the country, many of which are still in the early stage of their evolution.

ThePrint reached Netflix and Zee5 via email seeking response but there was no response until the time of publishing this report.

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Questions on restricted content

The new code reiterates that streaming services must provide content descriptions, age ratings and parental controls.

Additionally, they must also set up a Consumer Complaints Department and/or an internal committee, as well as an advisory panel, to hear user complaints, appeals, and escalations. The panel must have three people minimum, including two senior executives of the platform, and one independent external advisor. The external advisors will be appointed within the next 60 days, the code states.

It also says content not permitted under Indian Penal Code (IPC), Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) and Information Technology Act, 2000, will also not be streamed by the platforms. However, it does not explicitly mention what would comprise restricted content.

It is here that the government has a problem with.

Industry sources agreed that restricted material will include content: banned by courts; that disrespects the national emblem and flag; promotes terrorism or violence against the state; shows children in sexual acts; or which “promotes and encourages disrespect to the sovereignty and integrity of India”. But the code does not explicitly list what will comprise restricted content.

“The government has said this (version of the code) was not what they were expecting and it is important to list out what all will comprise restricted content,” said a second source.

Self regulation is different from self-censorship where abuse, nudity or politically sensitive content is voluntarily edited or beeped out by the platforms.

The source said the government has cited selective examples of countries like Singapore, Malaysia and the UK where there are restrictions in content to be streamed keeping in view the “sensibilities of the population”.

OCCP industry sources said that several players have objected to this.

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What are the objections?

While some players are objecting to specifically identifying restricted content as it might invite more government regulation in the future, others feel it’s better to identify than leave it to the imagination of vested interests, said the sources.

The sources said all content to be streamed would abide by the laws of the land and there wasn’t a need to explicitly list out prohibitive content given that the content on these platforms is curated.

A source from one of the platforms said there is already age classification and categorisation of content.

“The content has age mentioned against it, other access controls such as parental control and description detailing the storyline of the content makes it a pull model. So the audience chooses to watch a content knowing full well what it is,” said the platform source.

“So detailing restricted content does not solve a purpose especially when the code mentions that all content will abide by the laws of the land,” the source added. Essentially whatever is prohibited under CrPC, IPC and IT Act will not be streamed, the source added.

Way forward

While there are differences between the players, the aim is to build up a general consensus to address the ministry’s concerns to avoid any interference from government or courts in content regulation, a source quoted above said.

Sources from the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), which is drafting the code, said a concrete call is yet to be taken on this but the general line of thought is to list out the laws of the land to address the prohibited content under it.

“We might list out the laws of the land in the code. Beyond that there is always self regulation,” the source said.

Another source said it is also being discussed that along with stating what comprises the laws of the land. Some content that is obviously restricted may also be given out in the code. However, there is no consensus on this yet.

The government had repeatedly maintained that there should some sort of regulation for the content streamed by OCCP platforms.

The demand to regulate online streamed content has grown louder, especially after popular shows such as Sacred Games and Leila on Netflix faced backlash from groups, which claim these depicted India in poor light.

Earlier in July, I&B secretary Amit Khare had said that while digital platforms come under the purview of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, it is being proposed that content should come under the I&B ministry.

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