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The first ruling by OTT self-regulatory body was for a show that hadn’t even released

In this case, the self-regulatory body ruled against the complainant and dismissed the appeal on the grounds that it is unreasonable to judge a long web series based on its trailer. 

We missed this earlier: The Digital Media Content Regulatory Council (DMCRC) of the Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) heard and pronounced an order on the first appeal of a streaming service complaint after the notification of the Information Technology (Intermediary Liability and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, over July 6–7. The complaint was for a trailer for the then-upcoming Disney+ Hotstar series Grahan. The complaint being ruled on by the DMCRC alleged that the show disrespected Sikhs by making it look like one was engaged in the anti-Sikh Riots of 1984. MediaNama obtained a copy of the order. The DMCRC dismissed the appeal, giving the trailer a clean chit. The development was first reported by the Times of India.

The IT Rules require OTT streaming services to be a part of a self-regulatory body that can hear appeals on complaints that are heard by the streaming services themselves. If complainants are not satisfied, they can further appeal to the government.

Why it matters: While the DMCRC only represents a small number of streaming services, the decisions taken by it have a great impact since Star and other large traditional TV broadcasters’ streaming services like ZEE5, Sony LIV, Voot, and SunNXT are part of the body. As such, this first ruling, while for a small piece of content that already had a disclaimer, is a positive signal as far as freedom of expression on streaming services is concerned. Further rulings will provide a clearer picture of this body’s attitudes towards streaming content, especially politically contentious shows and films.

“The statutory grievance redressal mechanism is to be registered with the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting,” the IBF said in a press release. It is notable that the DMCRC has started having proceedings and hearing cases before registration with the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting commenced.

The ruling

Background: In a summary of the complaint, the DMCRC said, “The TRAILER and the plot, as clearly decipherable from the TRAILER, is an artwork of a sinister mindset aimed at setting a false narrative of the 1984 anti-Sikh genocide. […] The makers of the show have attempted to show that a Turbaned/Sikh man had been involved in looting and arson which shows a deliberate attempt to hurt the sentiments of the Sikh community.” (emphasis DMCRC’s)

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Decision: “The Council is of the unanimous opinion that it is unreasonable to judge such a long series, whose total length runs into a few hours over eight episodes, on the basis of a TRAILER that runs for 2 minutes and 24 seconds. A TRAILER is specifically meant to generate curiosity, and in the present instance, it does that – create a sense of intrigue and mystery about the story that would unfold.

The Council unanimously found that no community has been portrayed in a denigrating manner or in a bad light in the TRAILER. Moreover, there is no allusion or assumption of a Sikh person trying to engineer the riots as alleged by the appellants.

The Council is of the unanimous view that any artistic or creative work has to be viewed holistically to determine whether it is objectionable or offensive.

The Council is of the unanimous opinion that the TRAILER is within the framework of the law and therefore, the Appeal is not maintainable. The Appeal is without merit and is dismissed.”

Commission members: The DMCRC hearing was chaired by Retired Justice Vikramjit Sen. The six members were: filmmaker Nikkhil Advani, TV producer Deepak Dhar, writer, actor and director Tigmanshu Dhulia, artist, writer and filmmaker Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari, EVP and General Counsel of Sony Pictures Networks India Ashok Nambissan, and Chief Regional Counsel of Disney and Star India Mihir Rale.

Splinter of Level II bodies

The DMCRC isn’t the only Level II body for streaming services in India. The Internet and Mobile Association of India’s Digital Entertainment Committee members, largely internet-only companies, formed the Digital Publishers Content Grievance Council in May. Exchange4media reported that this split was along the lines of whether a streaming service came from a traditional broadcaster or not, with pureplay OTT streaming services like Netflix joining IAMAI’s body instead. IBF told Exchange4media, however, that purely digital OTT services would be allowed to join as well. MediaNama has reached out to IAMAI for comment on whether they have started proceedings in the body, which will be headed by retired justice Arjan Kumar Sikri.

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