Discontentment brewing in OTT space over new regulation code

Nandana James Mumbai | Updated on March 16, 2020 Published on March 16, 2020

Many players say best practices already in place; find new set of rules onerous

Discontentment seems to be brewing among the over-the-top (OTT) platforms over the new Digital Curated Content Complaint Council (DCCCC), the second tier of regulation in the space, for which only four players – Hotstar, Voot, Jio and SonyLiv – have signed up so far.

Nearly a year after nine over-the-top platforms signed a self-regulatory code of best practices under the aegis of Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), four signed up last month for the DCCCC, which seeks to add a second tier of regulation.

Though nascent, the OTT industry in the country is crowded with over 40 players.

“While we completely respect the step taken by various industry players to arrive at a common platform to address consumer grievances, a larger, mutually agreeable solution is pertinent and the urgent need of the hour, after seeking collective views from all stakeholders operating within the video streaming business, including content creators and distribution platforms. We believe that for such mechanisms to be truly effective for the consumer, a substantial number of OTT services, both at the regional and national levels, should be signatories and they should implement the same,” Tarun Katial, CEO, ZEE5 India, told BusinessLine.

ZEE5 has always supported the practice of self-regulation, he pointed out, drawing attention to its features like a parental control mechanism, proper age classifications and appropriate show descriptors, as well as a “full-fledged consumer grievances team addressing customer issues 24x7”.

A spokesperson for a leading OTT company, speaking on condition of anonymity, also echoed similar views. He said people seemed to have missed the point that the first version of the code signed in January 2019 already necessitated a redressal mechanism.

‘Need not felt’

To be sure, the self-regulatory code of best practices signed last year asked the OTT platforms to institute a grievance redressal mechanism. Under this, a dedicated person, team or department will receive and address any consumer-related concerns and complaints in relation to the content of the respective providers. It prohibited content involving child pornography and disrespect to national symbols. It also clamped down on content which deliberately attempts to outrage religious sentiments and encourages terrorism and other forms of violence. It asked OTT platform owners to categorise their content and classify the same for audiences of different ages, like general/universal viewing, content which requires parental guidance etc.

“We didn’t sign it because we didn’t believe in it. We believe that there wasn’t a need for a new code because the first version of it was, in our mind, a really good balance between creative freedom and consumer choice. Why do you want to come up with something additional?” the spokesperson of the OTT company added.

Said a source from another OTT company: “Article 19 of the Constitution guarantees you freedom of expression, subject to a few regulations or restrictions. OTT players are operating within the framework of law. When there are enough laws governing everything, we should let the law take its own course.”

The planned DCCCC will be chaired by Justice A P Shah and will include others with “keen knowledge of the digital medium, content creators and experts with proven track record to oversee interests of the sector as well as consumers”, said IAMAI in a statement on February 5.

The DCCCC is a complaint redressal mechanism that consumers can approach, if their grievances are not addressed by the OTT platform owners.“The DCCCC offers a robust redressal mechanism to the consumers wherein they can directly file a complaint and get an easy time bound redressal. The DCCCC initiative is aimed at promoting customer confidence, commerce and creative content in India,” IAMAI said.

‘Rushed through’

The second source cited above also said that the decision concerning the DCCCC was taken in a hurried manner, without proper consultation of all the OTT players and other stakeholders involved. “Five companies do not represent the entire industry,” the person said.

While IAMAI declined to comment on the matter saying it “does not discuss internal processes with the media”, Subho Ray, president, IAMAI, said: “However, I can confirm that all the nine original signatories of the original Code were actively involved in the discussions leading up to the DCCC, and finally, four of them decided not to agree to it.”

Meanwhile, earlier this month, Prakash Javadekar, Minister of Information and Broadcasting, gave the OTT majors 100 days’ time to set up an adjudicatory body and to finalise a code of conduct.

The spokesperson cited above said that the company is willing to engage in such a discussion that would be more thought-out, and would be more representative of the entire industry. “The minister has given 100 days and wants companies to work together in a more representative form – of the 40 streaming services – rather than just a few. We certainly want to work with that.”

Controversies over censorship

Censorship in the OTT space has always been a touchy topic, with many platforms getting mired in controversies about their content before.

The latest example would be when Hotstar India blocked an episode of John Oliver’s show that criticised Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The comedian had taken a jibe at Modi while previewing President Donald Trump’s visit to India on his show -- Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.

“A lot of our viewers in India alerted us to the fact that Hotstar, the streaming service that broadcasts us in India, never uploaded that episode. There is no evidence that the Indian government made them do that. As far as we can tell, Hotstar just decided to self-censor, which is still not good,” he had said about the matter.

Similarly, in 2019, Inc. removed an episode of the CBS show Madam Secretary from its streaming service in India, reportedly due to references to Hindu nationalism. Netflix’s popular show Sacred Games was also been privy to controversies owing to the explicit nature of its content, as well as its reference to former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.

Onir, film and TV director, who won the National Award for his film 'I Am', is of the opinion that self-regulation is sufficient and that any other form of censorship can be misused. As long as the content does not incite violence, we as a society need to allow more critical voices, he said.

“I think looking at what is happening overall, it is dangerous and undemocratic. I still understand self-regulation, I  believe in self-censorship… but this kind of thing (anything over and above self-regulation) will be putting a lot of restrictions on the kind of content that filmmakers want to talk about, and what platforms also would let you talk about. And that would be really sad … this way of clamping down voices is problematic.”


Published on March 16, 2020
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