On Friday, fifteen Indian streaming services and digital companies released the “Universal Self-Regulation Code for Online Curated Content Providers”. This is the third such code from the Internet and Mobile Association of India’s Digital Entertainment Committee; read the first code here and the second code here.

Timeline

  • In January 2019, nine streaming services in India announced a self-regulation code that settled on some “best practices” to avoid government-led censorship. Over that year, the government indicated that strengthening this self-regulatory code may be required by holding confidential consultations on the subject.
  • In February 2020, the Internet and Mobile Association of India unveiled a new code that some players drafted and signed up for. This code set up a Digital Content Complaints Committee which would serve as an appeals body that can penalise OTT players. Justice AP Shah was to be the Chairman of the committee, which was being set up as a self regulatory body. Over the following months, multiple OTT players opposed the new code, and highlighted the lack of consensus and adequate consultation within the IAMAI. The IAMAI’s Governing Council asked its Digital Entertainment Committee to come up with a solution acceptable to all members.
  • September 4, 2020: The present code summarised below, is the outcome of that subsequent process.

List of members

The following is the list of signatories to the code as of Friday. Notable exceptions include Sony LIV, YouTube Premium, and Apple TV+.

  • Zee5
  • Viacom18
  • Disney+ Hotstar
  • Amazon Prime Video
  • Netflix
  • MX Player
  • Jio Cinema
  • Eros Now
  • Alt Balaji
  • Arre
  • Hoichoi
  • Hungama
  • Shemaroo
  • Discovery Plus
  • Flickstree

Summary of the Self Regulation Code

Background and definitions

  • Background: The code notes that online shows have grown almost tenfold in the last ten years, and cites the importance of the media & entertainment industry to the Indian economy.
  • Difference between curated and user-generated content: The code emphasises that there is user-generated content (like on YouTube and social media), and on the other hand there is curated content, which the signatories to this code provide.
  • Business models: The code outlines the business models followed by OTT platforms. These are SVoD (subscription video on demand), AVoD (advertising-supported model), TVoD (transactional model where each title is purchased seaprately), and hybrid models that combine these elements.
  • Private viewing vs public exhibition: The code argues that since OTT platforms are on-demand, they constitute private exhibition that doesn’t fall under laws that apply for theatrical releases and TV broadcasts. It also argues that this content is subject to “user-initiated access controls”, presumably passwords and parental controls.

Preamble and goals

  • Applicability: The code applies to any online curated content providers who work in India, and is developed by them. Its members agree to take up “reasonable efforts in good faith” to implement its principles. The code requires signatories to invest in parental controls and content descriptors that provide viewers with information on mature content.
  • Objectives: The stated objectives are:
    1. To empower consumers to make informed viewing choices for themselves and their families;
    2. Nurture creativity and abide by freedom of speech and expression,
    3. Preserve the creative economy’s independence,
    4. Encourage members to abide by the guiding principles and “add predictability to the sectoral environment”;
    5. Elevating professional standards regarding self-regulation; and
    6. Provide consumers a grievance redressal mechanism.

Regulatory environment and age ratings

  • Regulatory environment: The code says that the Information Technology Act, 2000 is the “primary governing statute” for online content (this has been an issue of considerable debate), and that the constitution guarantees freedom of expression. It adds that no restrictions beyond what is in the constitution under Article 19(2) should be considered.
  • Detailed age ratings: This code details the age ratings that members are required to implement in more detail than before. The standards for age ratings are based on increasing intensity of violence, sex, nudity, drug use, and profanity. There are five categories: All Ages, 7+, 13+, 16+, and 18+. The code also requires that for some of these categories, information be prominently displayed on which facets of mature content are featured in a show.

Complaint mechanism

Complaints are sent to OTT platforms, and there is an appeal mechanism in place. There is no industry-wide body like in the last code.

  • Two-tier internal complaints system:
    • Tier 1: Signatories are required to create a Consumer Complaints Department, an Internal (or Appellate) Committee, and an Advisory Panel.
    • Tier 2: If a signatory creates a CCD, then the second level will be an Appellate Committee; if not, complaints go directly to an Internal Committee. The IC is staffed with the streaming service’s own employees, and the Advisory Panel, which deals with escalations, will have a minimum of two executives from the OTT platform, and one independent advisor. The code does not mention if the Advisory Panel’s decisions are binding, though the name suggests otherwise.
  • Outcome of complaints:
    • Complaints that are rejected must be disposed of within 15-30 days. They can also be disposed of if users don’t mandatorily provide particulars like when they watched a piece of content, or how exactly they believe the content violates the code. If an OTT platform voluntarily makes any changes, the complaint is voided, but without any admission of wrongdoing.
    • If a complaint is valid: then the code specifies only the following remedies within India:
      1. Change the age rating of the content;
      2. Add a warning or content descriptor; and/or
      3. Edit the content’s synopsis.

Complaint reporting and applicability

  • Reporting to MIB/MEITY: Not more than one time per year, OTT platforms must share details of complaints received in the past year if requested by the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, or by the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology, within thirty days of receiving such a request.
  • Applicability: Interestingly enough, though the code was unveiled on September 4, it is effective starting August 15. However, signatories are only expected to be fully compliant one year after the code’s signing, i.e., on August 15, 2021. The February code did not provide OTT platforms this much time to comply.What’s more, the code provides two years to platforms that don’t have parental controls set up already.

You can read the full code, provided to MediaNama by the IAMAI, here.

MediaNama discussions on Regulation of Online Content

Our coverage of Content Regulation

  • February 2020: IAMAI’s new code for online content streaming sets up a self-regulatory body, incorporates penalties [read]
    • Self Regulation for Online Curated Content Providers, IAMAI [read pdf]
  • February 2020: Streaming players ask IAMAI to recall streaming content code, question legitimacy; IAMAI responds [read]
  • March 2020: I&B Ministry gives OTT industry 100 days to create adjudicatory authority [read]
  • March 2020: Lack of consensus and hard questions at IAMAI’s meeting on its DCCC content regulation code [read]
  • March 2020: IAMAI to seek a consensus position on Content Regulation from its Digital Entertainment committee, following a Governing Council meeting [read]
  • August 2020: IAMAI proposed ombudsman model to government for OTT streaming regulation: Arré CEO Ajay Chacko [read]