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Is self-regulation for OTT platforms still on the cards?

IAMAI has finalised its self-regulation ‘implementation toolkit’

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KOLKATA: The talks around regulation of content on OTT platforms are gaining momentum with every passing day. Earlier today, information & broadcasting (I&B) minister Prakash Javadekar informed the Rajya Sabha during Zero Hour that regulatory guidelines are almost ready and will be implemented soon.

In the wake of such eager government intervention, the prospect of streaming services being able to retain control through self-regulation seems to have gone out the window. However, the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) remains hopeful and announced that it has finalised its self-regulation ‘implementation toolkit’.

According to a report in The Economic Times, the implementation toolkit comprises a set of guiding principles and procedures. "We will start the verification by March and April to ensure full compliance with the code by August," IAMAI co-chair digital entertainment committee Gourav Rakshit said. He assured that the latest toolkit has taken consideration of the government’s concerns.

Among the major OTT platforms, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Zee5, Voot, and SonyLIV have signed the document while MX Player and Disney+ Hotstar are expected to come onboard soon.

Last November, the over-the-top (OTT) industry and IAMAI collaborated to draft an implementation toolkit. The move came after the ministry of information and broadcasting (MIB) discarded the self-regulation code proposed by the IAMAI in early 2020. The IAMAI was advised to follow the structures of the Broadcasting Content Complaints Council (BCCC) and News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA).

Meanwhile, I&B minister Prakash Javadekar informed the Lok Sabha that the ministry felt that the mechanism proposed by IAMAI did not give adequate cognisance to content prohibited under law and there were issues of conflict of interest.

“The government has received several grievances/complaints regarding content of programmes on OTT platforms. The government also has held several consultations with the OTT players, including with IAMAI impressing upon them the need for having an appropriate self-regulatory mechanism for content over OTT platforms. In August 2020, the IAMAI had informed the ministry that a self-regulatory mechanism had been developed for the OTT platforms,” he said.

Anxiety over the censorship of content on OTTs started mounting when 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.

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