What are the key rules for OTT platforms under new guidelines?

The government has unveiled a three-tier redressal mechanism.

KOLKATA: Over the last couple of months, there were numerous speculations about regulation of OTT content in India. After hinting for the last two-three weeks that the Centre is working on the process of framing guidelines for the OTT platforms, it has unveiled on Thursday the new set of rules in a press conference held by minister of information and broadcasting Prakash Javadekar, IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad.

“We have decided to have a three-tier mechanism for OTT platforms. OTT and digital news media will have to disclose their details. We are not mandating registration, we are seeking information,” Javadekar said.

On the first level, the OTT platforms will need to establish a grievance redressal mechanism, and  appoint a grievance redressal officer based in India, who shall be responsible for the redressal of grievances received by it. These streaming services will have to display the contact details related to its grievance redressal mechanism, the name and contact details of its grievance redressal officer, prominently at the grievance portal formed by the ministry of information and broadcasting (MIB) and an appropriate place on its website or app.

At the next level, there will be a self-regulatory body headed by a retired judge of the Supreme Court or high court, who shall be appointed from a panel prepared by the ministry, and have other members, not exceeding six, being experts from the field of media, broadcasting, technology and entertainment.

MIB will formulate an oversight mechanism. It shall publish a charter for self-regulating bodies, including codes of practices. The ministry will also establish an inter-departmental committee for hearing grievances. 

Under the Code of Ethics, the OTT players cannot show any content which is prohibited under any law or has been prohibited by any court. They are also asked to exercise due caution and discretion in relation to the content which affects the sovereignty and integrity of India, threatens, endangers or jeopardises the security of the state and is detrimental to India’s friendly relations with foreign countries.

As part of the new guidelines, the OTT platforms will have to classify the content into five age based categories- U (Universal), U/A 7+, U/A 13+, U/A 16+, and A (Adult). Platforms would be required to implement parental locks for content classified as U/A 13+ or higher, and reliable age verification mechanisms for content classified as “A”.

In addition to that, they 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.  

Along with that, the platforms will prominently display the classification rating specific to each content or programme together with a content descriptor informing the user about the nature of the content, and advising on viewer description (if applicable) at the beginning of every programme enabling the user to make an informed decision, prior to watching the programme.

On Wednesday, the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) said its streaming service members were dismayed over the government's plan to formulate guidelines without consulting stakeholders. When Javadekar was asked if there will be any dialogue, he said the MIB held consultations in Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai over the last one and half years wherein OTT players had been urged to develop “self-regulatory mechanism” but nothing significant came of it.

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