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IAMAI’s regulatory code for OTT platforms outlining principles and seeking a creation of grievance redressal; will it lead to self-censorship?

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With the aim to provide a regulatory code for video streaming platforms, the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) has released a document called “Code of best practices for online curated content providers.” OTT platforms such as Netflix, Hotstar, Voot, Zee5, Arre, SonyLIV, ALT Balaji and Eros Now have signed the code, while Amazon Prime, TVF Play, Yupp TV, Hungama Play were missing from the list of signatories.

See the code here: [embeddoc url=”https://www.medianama.com/wp-content/uploads/Consolidated-Draft-14012019.pdf” download=”all”]

The document aims to provide a “guiding principle for Online Curated Content Providers”, and  outlines the kind of content that should be prohibited on video streaming platforms. It also calls for the setting up of a grievance redressal mechanism to ensure compliance of the code, and address complaints by the consumers. This should be seen in the backdrop of a discussion by the Observer Research Foundation held in September last year, when some of the participating Video-on-Demand companies held that they should create a self-regulatory code for content before the government does. The principles are broadly in line with the issues highlighted during the ORF discussion.

Prohibition of content

The code puts a responsibility on the signatories of this code against putting certain kind of content on their platforms. The principles are as follows:

  • Content which disrespects the national emblem or national flag
    What it meansThe code does not define what “disrespect” means. For example, in 2007, there was a controversy when Mandira Bedi, hosting the World Cup cricket on a TV channel appeared in a tricolor saari. This renders a subjective definition to “disrespect” to a national emblem.
  • Representing a child engaged in real or simulated activities or any representation of the sexual parts of a child for sexual purposes. (This is straightforward)
  • Content which deliberately and maliciously intends to outrage religious sentiments of any class, section or community
    What it means
    This puts an unreasonable restriction on speech and artistic freedom of the makers who want to tell a story, and is probably enquiring dominant notions or hegemonic ideas. It may include issues related to violence against a certain caste and religion by a dominant class, religion, political section or community. The code needs to tightly define the idea of hate speech, so that it is not subjectively interpreted as an attempt to exclude or attack a specific community.
  •  Content which deliberately and maliciously promotes or encourages terrorism and other forms of violence against the State (of India) or its institutions
    What it means: This again puts a restriction on free speech. The question is: how can the intent behind making something “malicious” be established? How do we differentiate it from an attempt to show the complexities of two opposing sides? The Netflix original Fauda about an Israel Army undercover unit has been credited for a fair portrayal of the Palestinian conflict. On the other hand, Shahid Kapoor’s Haider (2014) was mired in controversy for portraying violence by the Indian Army in Kashmir and empathizing with Haider who picked up guns against the State.
  • Content that has been banned for exhibition or distribution by online video service under applicable laws or by any court with competent jurisdiction

Transparent disclosure about the nature of content

The code also puts an onus on the video streaming platforms to inform the viewer about the nature of content.

  • It includes categorisation of content for age appropriate audience
  • Institution of technological tools to enable parental control

Grievance Redressal

All the signatories will have to internally appoint a person or institute a department, to ensure compliance of the code and to address grievances by viewers.

Reporting and redressal of a complaint: 

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  • A complaint can be filed with the relevant video streaming platform, along with details such as login ID, the title of the content, date of viewing and details of the alleged violation.
  • The redressal department will have to acknowledge the complaint within three working days from the date of receipt of the complaint. It can, however, ignore anonymous or pseudo anonymous complaints.
  • It provides a time frame of 10 to 30 working days within which the department has to respond to the complaint.
  • The department has to inform the complainant about the action that has been taken if it finds a violation of code.
  • Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology can also forward complaints to the grievance redressal departments of these platforms.

What it does not cover:

  • The code does not specify the penalty or punishment to the grievance redressal department if it does not respond to the complainant within the specified period.
  • It also does not specify the qualifications of a person who would be deemed fit be a part of the grievance redressal department.
  • The code does not give any power to the department to ensure the compliance of code.

Also read: Some Video on Demand co’s want to create a regulatory content code before the government does it

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