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RTI: I&B Ministry advised IAMAI to look at BCCC structure for guidance on content regulation

The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has advised streaming services to “look at” the Broadcast Content Complaints Committee (BCCC) and the News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA) for structuring their content regulation framework, in a letter obtained by MediaNama following a RTI request. The Ministry has indicated a dislike for the current self-regulatory code that streaming services largely support, and seems to suggest that it has no problem with the Digital Content Complaints Committee, a previously proposed system that had divided streaming services. The I&B Ministry wrote in the letter:

The IAMAI had earlier suggested a two-tier structure as part of the self-regulatory regime, the second tier being the Digital Curated Content Complaints Council (DCCC) along with enumeration of prohibited content. […]

In the self-regulatory mechanism which has now been informed as having been constituted, it is observed that there is no classification of prohibited content, the second tier (the Advisory Panel) is constituted by the OCCP itself (as against an Independent Body like DCCP proposed earlier). […]

Under the circumstances the Ministry cannot support the self-regulatory mechanism proposed by the IAMAI. It is advised to look at the structures of BCCC and NBSA as guiding principles for developing a credible self-regulatory and grievance redressal mechanism for the OCCPs. [Emphasis ours]

The letter validates earlier reporting by the Indian Express that the government has refused to support the industry’s self-regulation code.

It’s not clear what legal standing the I&B Ministry has to suggest these changes in the IAMAI’s code. The ministry has no jurisdiction over streaming services yet, since there is no law that gives them that power. This month, the ministry gained administrative authority over content streamed online, but in the absence of law, it is not clear what authority it can exercise.

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Nikhil Pahwa, founder and editor, MediaNama adds: It is not clear what the ministry means when it says it cannot support the current code and what law gives it the power to decide what an industry body’s self-regulatory code can and cannot contain. It’s also not clear why the IAMAI seems to be bending over backwards to accede to the I&B Ministry’s demands.

It’s very clear now that the I&B Ministry is trying to dictate what the self-regulatory code and cannot have. This is almost without having accountability for having defined the code. The I&B Ministry seems to be exerting power without responsibility and accountability to the public here.

Back to DCCC

The DCCC, unlike the current code, would set up an independent body to investigate complaints, and would have the power to penalise streaming services and order them to take content down. Delhi High Court Justice Prathiba M Singh echoed the belief that this kind of system was required in an address this month. Many streaming services opposed the DCCC because of its restrictions, and this forced the IAMAI’s Digital Entertainment Committee to come to a consensus on the current self-regulation code.

With administrative control over streaming services obtained by the I&B Ministry, this refusal to support self-regulation, and flares of seemingly manufactured right wing-led outrage cycles over online content, the industry is under increased pressure to be seen toeing the line, all of which poses significant free speech concerns, considering how comprehensively streaming services already censor themselves.

Self-censorship on streaming platforms in India

Even without a self-regulation code or stricter regulations that the I&B Ministry is seeking, streaming services in India have been censoring themselves just fine, with knee-jerk reactions that seek to soothe even inane outrage. More worryingly, the industry has also been engaging in this censorship before content is even released. And the number of reported incidents of self-censorship has only grown in recent years.

  • 2020
    • Netflix put out a censored version of the film Mission Impossible: Fallout, after delaying its release without an explanation for weeks. [read]
    • Netflix removed an Indian map with boundaries disputed by the government from the series Street Food: Asia. [read]
    • Netflix put out a censored version of the show Vikings in India, blurring nudity and meat. [read]
    • Amazon Prime Video censored Borat Subsequent Moviefilm in India, blurring a world map to obscure the country’s boundaries with Pakistan and China, and added a disclaimer to the beginning of the film.
    • ZEE5 suspended the release of Tamil web series Godman after an online outrage cycle. [read]
    • ALT Balaji and ZEE5 censored an episode of XXX: Uncensored after people objected to its depiction of a military officer’s wife making her lover put on his uniform in a sex scene. [read]
    • Hotstar blocked an episode of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver about Narendra Modi and the rise of Hindu extremism in India.
    • Hotstar zoomed in on Oliver’s face in a shot in a subsequent episode about the World Health Organization to avoid showing a map of India with boundaries disputed by the government. [read]
    • ZEE5 edited a sketch of an independence activist out of a TV show after the sketch’s appearance on a wanted board in the background of a shot caused outrage online. [read]
    • I&B Minister Prakash Javadekar intervened to censor a ZEE5/ALT Balaji show [read]
    • In its fifth instance of censorship in 2020, ZEE5 pulled and later reinstated the Pakistani show Churails from its platform in its country of origin. [read]
    • Hotstar reportedly censored mentions of beef and ham in the cartoon DuckTales. [read]
  • 2019
    • Amazon Prime Video deleted an episode of CBS show Madam Secretary which dealt with Hindu nationalism. [read]
    • Hotstar took down a Koffee with Karan episode featuring Hardik Pandya and KL Rahul after criticism over comments made by one of the cricketers in the show. [read]
    • Netflix warned Hasan Minhaj to not use a version of the Kashmir map that the Indian government disputes in his show Patriot Act. [watch]
    • Netflix reportedly avoided purchasing the film Sexy Durga for political reasons. [read]
    • Apple TV+ released in India with certain titles censored. [read]
  • 2018
    • Amazon Prime Video censored The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel in India to blur genitalia and cigarette packs. [read]
  • 2017
    • Netflix released a heavily censored version of Angry Indian Goddesses censored in India. [read]
      • This censorship was reversed later.
    • Amazon Prime Video censored American Gods in India, but put out an ‘International Release’ version, something it has not done for any other show subsequently. [read]
  • 2016
    • Amazon Prime Video launched in India with heavy censorship, which included both its own originals and licensed films it had acquired that were available uncensored on streaming services like Netflix. [read]

Read the Ministry’s full letter to the IAMAI

Government of India
Ministry of Information and Broadcasting

September 21, 2020

To

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Shri Bhanupreet Saini
Associate Vice President,
Internet and Mobile Association of India,
232B Ground floor,
Okhla Industrial Estate – Phase – III
New Delhi: 110020.

Subject: IAMAI Self-regulation Code by Online Curated Content Providers (OCCP)

The undersigned is directed to refer to communication of Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) dt. 10.8.2020 and further letter dated 4.9.2020 on the above subject requesting the Ministry for its guidance and support in implementing the Self-regulatory Code for Online Curated Content Providers (OCCPs).

2. The matter has been examined and it is stated as under:-

  1. The IAMAI had earlier suggested a two-tier structure as part of the self-regulatory regime, the second tier being the Digital Curated Content Complaints Council (DCCC) along with enumeration of prohibited content. With regard to DCCC it had been proposed that the same would be chaired by a retired Judge of the Supreme Court or High Court.
  2. In the self-regulatory mechanism which has now been informed as having been constituted, it is observed that there is no classification of prohibited content, the second tier (the Advisory Panel) is constituted by the OCCP itself (as against an Independent Body like DCCP proposed earlier). Further out of 3 members of the Advisory Panel, two will be from the OCCP itself, while there will be only one independent member (who will be in a minority).

3. Accordingly, the proposed self-regulatory mechanism lacks independent third party monitoring, does not have well defined Code of Ethics, does not clearly enunciate prohibited content and at the second tier level there is an issue of conflict of interest.

4. Under the circumstances the Ministry cannot support the self-regulatory mechanism proposed by the IAMAI. It is advised to look at the structures of BCCC and NBSA as guiding principles for developing a credible self-regulatory and grievance redressal mechanism for the OCCPs.

This issues with the approval of competent authority.

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Yours faithfully,
sd/-
(Sonika Khattar)
Under Secretary

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Written By

I cover the digital content ecosystem and telecom for MediaNama.

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

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