Streaming platforms will on-board legal luminaries to their in-house complaints committee in response to the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting’s refusal to endorse the industry’s self-regulation code, an industry group representative said. Tarun Katial, the outgoing CEO of ZEE5 and the head of the Digital Entertainment Committee at the Internet and Mobile Association of India, said that the self-regulation code will not be amended, but when being implemented, “we’ll bring in legal luminaries, who have a better understanding on what is the law of the land, and what could really become crossing the line or hurting sentiments or doing something which was against the constitution of the country” so that “so that there is a certain amount of awareness that is built on what is right and wrong.” Katial was speaking at a webinar organised by the India International Centre on Friday.
Katial also reiterated remarks he made during FICCI’s Fast Track Digital event on the same subject. When pressed on the Ministry’s refusal to endorse the code (confirmed by MediaNama’s reporting), Katial said, “The ministry is saying that they would rather that we have a stronger redressal mechanism on the tier 2, where there are more external parties involved, to be able to give us better feedback, and they want to articulate the section on applicable laws. Are we going to do it? Yes, we’re going to do the articulation of the section on applicable laws. Whether we do it or not, it’s anyway articulated in the constitution of the country.”
Katial said that while the code wouldn’t be modified further, the implementation code would provide for the above adjustments. When asked if there was pressure on the industry to “toe the line”, that is, shy away from certain subject matters, Katial said, “No. There may be conversation, but there is no pressure.”
Transcript of discussion on the self-regulation code
The transcript of Katial’s segment on the webinar on “Streaming Platforms and Digital News Media: Regulation, Self-regulation or no Regulation?” follows. The transcript is slightly edited for clarity.
Tarun Katial, Head of IAMAI’s Digital Entertainment Committee: What we’re trying to do is build a common platform for everyone to understand what the tenets of original content curation is in India. There’s no attempt to define the kind of content or the kind of storytelling or the kind of creative freedom that we believe every digital video streaming platform, a pull platform, must have and must continue to maintain.
The self-regulation code, if you’ve read it, there are two or three things, very simple. One, it defines a standard policy on age ratings. It then defines a certain kind of descriptors that we must use for age rating. It then allows or encourages or ensures all of us as platforms use technology to do age gating. And it then builds on a true level of complaint mechanism that people are able to use to be able to bring in their views and get heard out by the platforms themselves and by an external body that is comprising the platforms as well as of civil society, that has an understanding of that subject, and [unclear].
So that’s really the [unclear] for the [unclear]. A redressal mechanism for everybody who has views or complaints to give. One mechanism that is internal, and the second mechanism that is external. As to prohibited content, we haven’t defined any prohibited content [unclear], but we have defined a fact that we will take care of the law of the land. I think as citizens of the country, we are anyway committed to making sure that we stay within the Constitution and the applicable laws. So that is the commitment by us to the civil society.
And that’s largely all that we’ve done on the self-regulation code. It’s a good code, it brings in a certain amount of uniformity; it balances consumer interests by providing information, by providing technology for age gating, and also allows for freedom of the creative folks for them to be able to create the kind of content that they deserve to make, and the kind of stories they deserve to tell.
Shuma Raha, Journalist & Author (Moderator): But the I&B Ministry did not support it.
Tarun Katial: I am coming to that point. I knew you’d get that point. What is our relationship with the I&B Ministry? We go to the I&B Ministry primarily not for approval, but for making sure that we were on the same table when it comes to a lot of PILs that continue to get filed. [unclear] users who think that OTT services and their content is hurting some kind of sentiments. And the Ministry is called in to represent the government on what it should do, and so it was important that the Ministry and us were aware that we have a self-regulation code and that we’re working on making sure that we have a redressal mechanism for some of these complaints that now become quasi-legal or legal.
What is the ministry saying? The ministry is saying that they would rather that we have a stronger redressal mechanism on the tier 2, where there are more external parties involved, to be able to give us better feedback, and they want to articulate the section on applicable laws. Are we going to do it? Yes, we’re going to do the articulation of the section on applicable laws. Whether we do it or not, it’s anyway articulated in the constitution of the country.
What we’re going to do on the tier 2, is that we’ll largely stay with what we have on tier 2, but we’ll bring in legal luminaries, who have a better understanding on what is the law of the land, and what could really become crossing the line or hurting sentiments or doing something which was against the constitution of the country, within our tier 2 ecosystem, so that there is a certain amount of awareness that is built on what is right and wrong, rather than [unclear] as sacrosanct.
So that’s the limited point of the self-regulation code, and I do believe if it can be done in the manner we have envisaged, it can add a certain amount of uniformity as well as consistency in the way we deal with user complaints on original curated content.
Shuma Raha: Are you bringing in a list of prohibited content?
Tarun Katial: No, no. We’re just bringing in the applicable laws.
Shuma Raha: The applicable laws are already there. Why do you need to—
Tarun Katial: We’re not going to bring them in, we may eventually end up listing them in our implementation code. We’re not bringing in—
Shuma Raha: [unclear] free speech and so on and so forth, and Article 295A and stuff like that. What about the complaints redressal mechanism, because as Nikhil [Pahwa, editor and publisher of MediaNama] mentioned, an RTI application by MediaNama, I think that has revealed that the Ministry was leaning towards a complaints redressal mechanism more on the lines of the BCCC, which is—
Tarun Katial: We are continuing to stay with the two tier mechanism that we have.
Shuma Raha: So what is the status of the code now?
Tarun Katial: It’s in the implementation with all the players.
Shuma Raha: Implementation, meaning you are—
Tarun Katial: It’s all adopted, it’s all signed, we are [unclear]. We have to make sure that all our content is age rated, we make sure that we have technology that allows for age gating. There is a fair amount of implementation to be done already. [unclear] Descriptors to be put on all that content, form our tier 2 committees. [unclear] To be able to help the user [unclear]get the content.
Shuma Raha: Age gating, everybody wants age gating as well as content descriptors, because that helps the viewer to make an informed choice. But anything beyond that would make the content fairly — uninteresting, to put it mildly. It would severely undermine the quality of the content, the diversity of the content, and so on. So, are you saying that there is no pressure as such from the ministry to toe their line?
Tarun Katial: No.
Shuma Raha: Okay, that’s good to know.
Tarun Katial: There may be conversation, but there is no pressure.
Shuma Raha: If they were going to push for a BCCC kind of complaints redressal mechanism, it makes taking content down that much easier, right? Would the industry push back [on that]?
Tarun Katial: I don’t know what to say about hypotheses.
Shuma Raha: You haven’t placed it in the public domain as yet.
Tarun Katial: It will be in the public domain. It is unfortunate that— [unclear] you have not read it.
Shuma Raha: No no, I have read it. I’m saying the modified code. Because—
Tarun Katial: There is no modification to the code.
Shuma Raha: Okay, so the code is being accepted as it is, as you put it out in September?
Tarun Katial: Yes.
Disclosure: Nikhil Pahwa, editor and publisher of MediaNama, was also on the panel discussion on which this story is based.