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Streaming players ask IAMAI to recall streaming content code, question legitimacy; IAMAI responds

Updated below

Even as the IAMAI announced the formation of its Digital Content Complaints Council (DCCC) to address government and user complaints related to content on streaming platforms, several content providers registered their dissent with the IAMAI, asking it to recall the code. The DCCC has retired High Court Judge AP Shah as its Chairperson, and the IAMAI said at the announcement of the event that in two weeks they intend to launch a website where consumers can file complaints about content on streaming services. Details about the code are here. Download a copy of the code here.

MediaNama raised concerns highlighted in the industry letters about recalling the code, concerns about process, and the allegedly incorrect representation of the code as an industry code, with Chitrita Chatterjee, Advisor, IAMAI, who oversaw the process of formulating the code. Her responses in detail are below.

Did Eros back out?

The new code was launched with 4 signatories (Hotstar, Jio, SonyLIV and VOOT) and now has five, with Eros also signing up.

Eros took a little time to sign up: In its email to some streaming services on Monday, the IAMAI had said that Hotstar, Jio, SonyLIV, VOOT (Viacom/Network18) and Eros were signatories to the new code; this had also been reported by the Economic Times earlier today. At the announcement today, Eros was conspicuous by its absence, and some industry players were of the opinion that Eros has backed out. Chitrita Chatterjee, Advisor IAMAI told MediaNama that Eros is signing on board, and that the IAMAI had not not received their consent letter in time for the launch of the code today. She subsequently informed us that the letter had been received. And then there were five.

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Issues raised by some streaming services

Netflix, AltBalaji, Arre, MX Player and Zee5 wrote to the IAMAI yesterday, recording their dissent to the code, and asking for its recall, the Economic Times reported earlier today. According to some of the emails viewed by MediaNama (we can’t specify which, in order to preserve the identity of our sources), the emails raised the following concerns:

1. Recall or postpone the code: three emails viewed by MediaNama asked for the IAMAI to recall the code or defer its release, raising concerns about the lack of transparency and due process. Any decision should only be taken after this code is discussed among a wider group of stakeholders, the emails said.

Chatterjee, responding to MediaNama’s query about why the IAMAI went ahead with the code despite the complaints, said that “The chair and the co-chair of the committee both felt that they’ve come this far, and some of the previous signatories have voluntarily opted out, and there’s no point in delaying this. We have had inquiries from non-signatories, where they’re interested in coming on board. These platforms are saying that the government is not going to come with any regulation, but they have been holding workshops. If your read the code, this is pure hygiene. We’re just giving the consumer a platform for voicing their grievance. I do not see the reason for this huge hulla”, she said.

2. Concerns about process: some companies raised concerns about the non-participatory nature of the process, calling it exclusionary, especially given that it had been understood that any new code would be discussed with all members of IAMAI, and that the code needs to be accepted by the entire industry, and not just by a few players. In particular, concerns were raised about the fact that the IAMAI had shared the code only with signatories to the previous code, and not even its wider entertainment committee. They said that it is being rushed through without leaving any scope for discussion.

Chatterjee, responded to this by saying that “The entertianment committee was started in IAMAI four years ago. It was decided eventually, that for curated content, let there be a sub-committee. Google and Facebook chose to remain out of that. After two years, we had the initial code. When we socialised that, it was understood that there would be quarterly reporting. [However] No one was willing to come out with the complaints that they’ve addressed, and we had no answers when we were asked about complaints being addressed [by members]. That’s where the conversation began about having a council to address these, and have recognition as a body, that we have a serious intent, and that we are serious about the consumer interest. The content has remained, and we’re just adding another tier to the complaints process.”

“It was not discussed with the entertainment committee, because it did not concern the entire entertainment committee. It was discussed with the signatories to the [previous] code. Netflix had an objection from the word go, [saying] that there shouldn’t be a second tier. They were categorical about that. They wanted an audit process. ALT Balaji said that they’re withdrawing. Arre, and Ajay Chacko said that he will not sign it, and said that he doesn’t want to be the first independent player to sign on. Amazon said that something like this is not required. Each individual company having best practice doesn’t work. There has to be uniformity. This is not censorship. We are saying that creative people should be allowed their creative freedom, and that platforms should give some kind of age descriptor, content descriptor. This council will not ask for takedowns. There could be penalties.”

3. False representation as an “Industry Code”: Concern that the code only has limited signatories: another concern, which some streaming players also shared with MediaNama, was that the code only had five signatories (this was before Eros apparently opted out), and the code was being represented as an industry code, or an IAMAI code, despite the fact that a majority of the entertainment industry had not signed on, and there were no deliberations with the wider industry.

Chatterjee said that “We are going out to other companies. We already have an interest from companies wanting to sign on. We will go out and socialise it [the code]. It won’t be a walled garden for 3-4-5 companies. We would like most of 34-35 [entertainment] platforms in India to come on board. We will talk to Netflix to reconsider their decision. It is a voluntary.

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Written By

Founder @ MediaNama. TED Fellow. Asia21 Fellow @ Asia Society. Co-founder SaveTheInternet.in and Internet Freedom Foundation. Advisory board @ CyberBRICS

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.

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