Towards transparency in OTT regulation

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Source– The post is based on the article “Towards transparency in OTT regulation” published in The Hindu on 27th February 2023.

Syllabus: GS3- Economy

Relevance: Entertainment and broadcasting industry

News- It has been two years since the government issued the Information Technology

(Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules through which the Ministry of I&B was given the task of regulating content on OTT and online platforms.

What is the regulatory approach followed by India in case of OTT platforms?

India’s approach can be termed as a light touch ‘co regulation’ model. There is ‘self regulation’ at the industry level and final ‘oversight mechanism’ at the Ministry level.

The Rules provide for a grievance redressal mechanism and a code of ethics.

They mandate access control mechanisms. It includes parental locks for content classified as U/A 13+ or higher and a reliable age verification mechanism for programmes classified as ‘A’ (18+).

The current Rules provide for the Inter ­Departmental Committee as the final tier. It comprises officer nominees from various ministries of the Central government, and domain experts.

It recommends the course of action on OTT content violations. The Secretary of the Ministry is competent to take the final decision.

What are issues related to OTT regulations?

There is little awareness about OTT rules among the general public. The Rules mandate the display of contact details relating to grievance redressal mechanisms and grievance officers on OTT websites/interface. However, compliance is very low.

In many cases, either the complaint redressal information is not published or published in a manner that makes it difficult for a user to notice easily.

What is the way forward for OTT regulations?

There is a need for ensuring uniformity in the way OTT publishers display key information relating to their obligations, timelines for complaint redressal, contact details of grievance officers. The manner, text, language and frequency for display of vital information could be enshrined in the Rules.

The OTT industry associations could be mandated to run periodic campaigns in print and electronic media about the grievance redressal mechanism.

The interpretation of age rating and the content descriptors could be in the respective languages of the video.

Further, age ratings and content descriptors could be shown prominently in full­screen mode for a mandatory minimum duration instead of a few seconds. Such a rule exists for films under the Cinematograph Act.

There is a need for clear guidelines to ensure that a film’s classification and rating is shown  prominently and legibly in advertisements and promos of OTT content.

A periodic audit of the actual existence and efficacy of age verification mechanisms and the display of grievance redressal details by each OTT platform may be undertaken by an independent body.

The full description of complaints received by OTT providers and self regulatory bodies and decisions given by them may be published in the public domain. Now, the reporting formats only capture the number of complaints received and decided

The Ministry could consider facilitating a dedicated umbrella website for publishing the details of applicable Rules, content codes, advisories, contact details for complaints and appeals.

There is a need for establishing a statutory body for regulating broadcast content. The Inter ­Departmental Committee Membership may be made more broad based and representative till the constitution of such body.

There is no provision for disclosure or publication of an apology and warning on the platform or website. This may be incorporated in the Rules. Financial penalties on erring entities may also be provided.

India’s OTT regulatory model should be efficacious combination of self regulation and legal backing.

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