The Internet and Mobile Association of India has proposed an ombudsman model to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting for self-regulation of streaming platforms like Netflix and Hotstar, Arré CEO Ajay Chacko said. Chacko revealed the development in a discussion hosted by IndianTelevision, which first reported Chacko’s remarks on Saturday. Arré is a part of the IAMAI’s Digital Entertainment Committee, which has been liaising for months with the MIB to come up with a self-regulatory system for OTT platforms. Anil Wanvari, founder and CEO of IndianTelevision, said that the government had given streaming services an August 10 deadline to come up with a solution to content regulation online.

Hoichoi confirmed to MediaNama that they support the proposal. Head of Revenue and Strategy, Soumya Mukherjee, said in a statement, “Yes, hoichoi is one of the sponsors for this proposal. The Ombudsmen Model clearly lays out the self-regulatory framework which includes Content Classification and Parental Control Pin setting along with a few other regulations. This has been created in accordance with all industry experts and after multiple rounds of discussion we are happy with the final proposal.”

We have reached out to the IAMAI for further comment on what this ombudsman model entails. We have also reached out to Netflix, Hotstar, Voot, Sony Liv, Amazon Prime Video, Google, Apple, Zee5, and Jio to find out if they too support this proposal.

In February, the IAMAI had unveiled the Digital Content Complaints Committee, a proposed self-regulatory body that would have powers to penalise streaming services for violating some baseline content norms. Only a few streaming services supported the committee, with quite a few opposing its formation, leading to clashes of opinion on how to proceed. After weeks of talks, it now seems that the IAMAI has found a middle way, so to speak. An ombudsman is a compromise between having a committee, which is an added layer of bureaucracy, and leaving streaming services to self-regulate.

Defence ministry NOC requirement a ‘racket’

In addition to decrying attempts at online content regulation, Chacko said that the Defence Ministry’s July 31 circular requiring No-Objection Certificates for army-related content was a “racket” where a middleman would acquire clearances on producers’ behalf. We have transcribed a section of the discussion where Chacko discussed many issues surrounding OTT regulation:

Anil Wanvari: Why is the country going to war against the OTT platforms? Why are regulators, why are PILs being filed all over, that under the guise of being creative they are pushing vulgarity and nonsense. Why is that happening?

Ajay Chacko: I’ve been a part of this circus of regulation for the last two years in digital, and I also claim to be a part of the legacy of why we are where we are. We had ten-fifteen years of broadcast the way it was. Your question on the edgy-non-edgy part actually comes from two parts. One is, is there regulatory arbitrage that OTT platforms are taking advantage of? Assume that was the case, but it came from a different place. It came from a somewhat different milieu. Netflix is defined as a television service online. Since US always had premium cable, the content you were watching was always the same.

This whole individual versus collective viewing bogey is a peculiar Indian thing. We had a rating system where between 7 and 9 in the night only housewives had access to the remote control in the house and therefore you thought that was what works for television at large, for 500 million people.

There was a regulatory problem right from the time when we had ratings for families. What we are saying is, one, internet is a medium of choice. Let people decide basis information what they want to watch or not watch. Disclosure is the number one thing. That is a worldwide phenomenon.

If you want parity, do not bring the newest medium down to the lowest common denominator of the older medium. For example, if you have CBFC certification, and the CBFC person says that I had to approve 25,000 units of content last year, you should be ashamed of it. Who are you to approve 25,000 pieces of content? You should not be approving it, there should be self-certification. Why should a television producer not have a CBFC certificate and an OTT producer not even have a BCCC kind of thing?

The problem is not with the digital guy. The problem is you’re overregulating the film guy, the TV guy, and therefore you’re now saying why should digital not be regulated the same way. There’s a problem in where the whole thing is being approached.

A lot of the PILs are massively frivolous. We met a couple of the litigants who are doing this PIL in Delhi and they were professional litigants at the behest of either politicised things or actually people who want to make a quick buck.

So do not look at the past as having any bearing on the future in terms of regulation. We should go by the IT regulation where regulation came ten years after it was formed, and therefore what we have with the IT industry is there. In India, which has 800-900 million consumers of media, the overall sector put together, TV, digital, films, everything put together is not even half the size of [the L&T-owned outsourcing company] Mindtree in terms of market cap.

Anil Wanvari: What has been propagating in the last month and a half– various people have said–

Ajay Chacko: It’s not just the last month and a half. It’s been there for [unclear]

Anil Wanvari: It’s more vociferous now.

Ajay Chacko: And I’m sorry to say it might actually prevail.

Divya Dixit (Senior Vice President at ALT Balaji): Yes, that’s the saddest part, actually.

Anil Wanvari: Now the Ministry of Defence is saying that a No-Objection Certificate might be required for defence-related projects.

Ajay Chacko: I have already spent a hundred days and 40 crores shooting one. Now if they say “I don’t like the dress you’re wearing”, I can’t change anything!

Anil Wanvari: That’s what the MOD has said.

Ajay Chacko: I don’t know how much of this is on the record, but I also know that will become a racket where there’s a middleman who gets it approved. So that is how it is.

Divya Dixit: Well said, Ajay. Self-regulation is the way to go. TV is overly regulated.

Ajay Chacko: It’s not about edgy vs non-edgy. What is edgy for you may not be for me. Let us disclose, and frankly if you seriously want edgy stuff, people will just watch porn.

Anil Wanvari: India is the largest porn-watching nation in the world.

Ajay Chacko: I don’t believe for a moment that Indian consumers will stop watching stories and start watching sleaze because [crosstalk]. That’s a very mother-knows-best approach.

Anil Wanvari: What is it that the industry–

Divya Dixit: I agree with every single point you’ve said.

Anil Wanvari: So Gautam, under the IAMAI, you have a Digital Content Complaints Committee.

Ajay Chacko: No, we are disagreeing with the DCCC model, which is like the BCCC model which gets a retired judge on a committee and throws away the creative control to somebody in a panel to decide whether this has got any problem or not. While we have agreed to Code 1, which say self-regulation by disclosing whatever, we have not yet agreed on something called as a DCCC. We have not agreed. We are now proposing an ombudsman model to the government, which is a midway path. I’m hoping that works out, but I don’t know.

Anil Wanvari: So you have another three days, they said by [August] 10 we have to come up with a solution.

Ajay Chacko: Who puts all these deadlines? [unclear] 100 days, what is the basis of that deadline? Do you really think in the country where there are 15,000 other problems, what people are watching is the biggest issue in life? I mean, come on.

Also read