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Government announces broad framework of OTT regulation

Industry will have to follow a three step process to comply with Centre’s new guidelines.

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Mumbai: The government today announced how it will regulate OTT and digital publishing. Speaking at a virtual press conference today, minister of information and broadcasting Prakash Javadekar said that the industry will have to follow a three step process to comply with the Centre’s new guidelines on digital media.   

First off, OTTs, social media and digital publishers will have to come clean about their ownership, the location they are publishing from and other details of the corporation. Second, they will have to have a grievance redressal system within the OTT and digital portals. Thirdly, the sector will have to set up a self regulation OTT body headed by a retired high court or supreme court judge or an eminent person. OTT platforms will have to also have classification of content based on age: from Universal, 13 plus, 16 plus and Adults.

"We have decided to have a three-stair mechanism for OTT platforms. OTT and digital news media will have to disclose their details. We are not mandating registration; we are seeking information,” said Javadekar, adding that there here will also be an oversight mechanism at the government level to deal with the case wherein immediate action is needed.

The minister said there here should be a grievance redressal system in OTT platforms and digital portals. He also mentioned that OTT platforms will have to put in place parental locks.

According to the new guidelines issued, online curated content platforms will have to "take into consideration India’s multi-racial and multi-religious context and exercise due caution and discretion when featuring the activities, beliefs,practices, or views of any racial or religious group." These entities must exercise caution and discretion in relation to content which affects the sovereignty and integrity of India and threatens, endangers or jeopardizes the security of the country.

The news comes a day after the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) urged the government to initiate a public consultation on draft guidelines for OTT platforms. The industry body had introduced a universal self-regulatory code and an implementation toolkit which was adopted by 17 online curated content platforms.

The Centre brought online content jurisdiction under the ambit of MIB last year. A gazette notification stated that films and audio-visual programmes made available by online content providers, news and current affairs content on online platforms would come under MIB’s purview.

There are over 40 OTT platforms in India and some of the biggest players such as Amazon Prime Video and Netflix have come under fire from certain sections of the populace and government officials for shows like Tandav, Sacred Games and A Suitable Boy, purportedly for hurting the sentiments of a particular religious community.

One controversy followed another and the complaints and FIRs against content on streaming services piled up; last month reports emerged that the MIB had roped in the aid of two other ministries to draft and legislate an overarching statute for OTT platforms that will define a framework for their self-regulation and address the issues of sensitive content. Union minister Prakash Javadekar had to issue multiple reassurances in Parliament over the last few weeks that guidelines to regulate OTTs would be issued soon.

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