The rush to put together an independent body for online content regulation is turning out to be quite a challenge for the Internet and Mobile Association of India. Its Governing Council, which convened on 23rd March 2020, has asked the IAMAI to go back to its Digital Entertainment committee, and finalise an online content regulation code that has the largest consensus among digital entertainment companies.

The code that was presented to the Governing Council didn’t have consensus.

In fact, out of around 30 members of the Digital Entertainment committee, it only had 5 signatories. This led to a fairly heated discussion within the Digital Entertainment committee on 18th March, and questions were raised about whether the new code – called the Tier 2 code – can even be seen as an IAMAI code, and calls were made for starting the process of determining an IAMAI position on online content regulation all over again. Thus, the Governing Council has decided to also discuss the mechanism as per which the IAMAI takes a position, so that such a situation doesn’t arise again.

Last month, the IAMAI pushed through the Tier 2 code, which would lead to the setting up of a body (called the DCCC) for regulating content on streaming services in India, without much deliberation and consensus. As per MediaNama’s sources, IAMAI’s Digital Entertainment committee was informed about the Tier-2 code on January 31th 2020; a copy of the new code was shared with them on the February 3rd; and the code was released at the IAMAI’s flagship India Digital Summit event with only five signatories, on the February 5th.

All this, in just six days.

This, incidentally, is despite two key facts: on the 4th of February, Netflix, AltBalaji, Arre, MX Player and Zee5 wrote to the IAMAI, recording their dissent to the code, and asking for its recall, and secondly, four out of nine signatories to an earlier code, had chosen to opt out.

These developments are important for content regulation in India, given that despite the fact that the IAMAI only has 294 members (as of 2018), it is seen by the Indian government as being representative of the Indian Internet ecosystem. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting is pushing for self-regulation of online streaming services in India, and they’re engaging with the IAMAI for the finalisation of a code.

The IAMAI declined to comment for this story, and MediaNama has confirmed the developments in this story with many sources who were on the IAMAI’s governing council conference call.

Questions raised about consensus at the Governing Council meeting

Two key items on the agenda at the IAMAI’s Governing Council call were the Covid-19 pandemic, and the content regulation code. The primary contention raised in the meeting, with respect to the code, was whether the Tier 2 code (DCCC) can be represented as a IAMAI code, given that only 5 out of 30 odd Digital Entertainment committee members had signed it. Deepak Jacob, President & General Counsel – Legal & Regulatory Affairs at STAR India/Hotstar, made a presentation on the code via video to the Governing Council. Jacob, sources told MediaNama, initially suggested that the Tier 2 (DCCC) code be represented as the IAMAI’s official position to the Indian government. MediaNama had sent an email to STAR India/Hotstar for a comment on this story on March 25th. STAR India/Hotstar has neither confirmed nor denied developments on record for this story, despite multiple requests and reminders.

Jacob’s suggestion was met with opposition: In particular, Gaurav Gandhi, Head of Amazon Prime Video, who was attending the Governing Council meeting as a special invitee along with MX Player’s Karan Bedi, asked for it to be made sure that everyone is consulted before the IAMAI takes a position on a policy issue. Amazon is yet to respond to MediaNama’s queries for a confirmation or denial.

The idea that the IAMAI could present two positions, one of a consensus position that the Digital Entertainment committee agrees upon, and one of the Tier-2 code which has been chosen by 5 members of the IAMAI, was also considered. This was struck down, and Subho Ray, the President of the IAMAI, agreed that the organisation would go back to the Digital Entertainment committee, and represent the largest consensus to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.

Ajit Mohan, VP & MD India at Facebook asked Ray about what mechanism exists within the IAMAI to finalise a position. Facebook confirmed that Mohan attended the meeting, but did not comment further. During the discussion that followed, it was said that there need not be 100% consensus, but it was very clear that 5 out of 30 people doesn’t represent consensus in any shape and form. Ray conceded that the IAMAI will only represent one position to the government.

The Governing Council of the IAMAI had decided to meet to set up principles, and the mechanism as per which a position can be attached to the IAMAI, sources told MediaNama.

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Notes from MediaNama events on Online Content Regulation: