Towards Transparency in OTT Regulation

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“A survey of OTT regulation in various countries shows that most of them have not yet come up with a clear law-backed framework”. File | Photo credit: PTI

IIt has been two years since the government was released. Information Technology (Intermediate Guidelines and Digital Media Code of Ethics) Rules By which the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (I&B) was given the task of regulating content on OTT and online platforms. India’s approach can be termed as a light-touch ‘co-regulation’ model where there is ‘self-regulation’ at the industry level and the ultimate ‘oversight mechanism’ at the ministry level. The rules provide for grievance redressal procedures and a code of conduct. They mandate access control mechanisms for content rated U/A 13+ or higher, including parental locks and age restrictions for programs rated as ‘A’ (18+). A reliable authentication mechanism.

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A survey of OTT regulation in various countries shows that most of them have not yet come up with a clear law-backed framework. A few of them like Singapore and Australia stand out. In Singapore, the Infocomm Media Development Authority is the joint regulator for various media. In addition to establishing a legal framework and promoting industry self-regulation, his approach to media regulation emphasizes promoting media literacy through public education.

Towards Media Literacy

Although the OTT rules were notified in 2021, there is little awareness about them among the general public. The rules mandate display of contact details of grievance redressal procedures and grievance officers on OTT websites/interfaces. However, compliance is very low. In many cases, either the grievance redressal information is not published or is published in such a manner that it becomes difficult for the consumer to take notice easily. In some cases, the details are not included as part of the OTT app interface. It emphasizes the need to ensure uniformity in the way OTT publishers disclose important information regarding their responsibilities, timelines for redressal of complaints, contact details of complaint officers, etc. Rules. OTT Industry Associations may be mandated to campaign periodically about the grievance redressal mechanism in print and electronic media.

Annotation of age rating (e.g. UA 13+) and content descriptors (‘violence’, e.g.) may be in the relevant languages ​​of the video (other than English). Such provisions are included in the law for the display of anti-tobacco messages in films. In addition, age ratings and content descriptors can be prominently displayed in full-screen mode for a mandatory minimum period of time on the screen instead of a few seconds. Such a rule exists for films under the Cinematograph Act. These rules may also provide clear guidelines to ensure that the rating/rating of the film is prominent and legible in advertisements and promos of OTT content in print and electronic media.

Transparency is required.

Periodic audit of the existence and effectiveness of access control and age verification mechanisms and details of complaint redressal through each OTT platform may be conducted by an independent body. Although the rules require publishers and self-regulatory bodies to disclose details of complaints, the reporting formats only capture and adjudicate the number of complaints received. Instead, full details of complaints received and decisions made by OTT providers and self-regulatory bodies may be published in the public domain.

The Ministry may consider facilitating a dedicated umbrella website where applicable rules, content codes, advice, contact details for complaints/appeals etc. are published. OTT providers and appellate/self-regulatory bodies can be made to upload details of complaints and redressal decisions, which will be visible to the public and government authorities. This procedure will help in increasing transparency.

The existing rules provide for the third/final level as an Inter-Departmental Committee (IDC) consisting of officer nominees from various Central Government Ministries and domain experts. The procedure is such that where the IDC recommends action on violations of OTT content, the Secretary of the Ministry is empowered to take the final decision. The Supreme Court and High Courts have emphasized the need to establish a statutory body to regulate broadcast content. Pending the constitution of such a statutory regulator for the media, the membership of the IDC may be made more broadly based and representative and with security of tenure.

There is no provision for disclosure or publication of apologies/warnings/criticisms on the Platform or Website. This can be included in the rules. Financial penalties may also be provided for erring entities. In the current era of media convergence, it is high time that we develop a common set of guidelines for content, ratings, age ratings, infringements, etc. so that content runs evenly across platforms.

Editorial | Top: On privacy and regulation of digital apps

India’s OTT regulatory model seeks to be an effective blend of self-regulation and legal backing. This is in line with the global trend. The I&B Ministry envisaged that India’s OTT regulations would “raise India’s stature internationally and serve as a model for other nations.” The above measures to increase media literacy and transparency will help further this objective, understand the efficacy of ‘self-regulation’ and empower millions of OTT users.

Ravi Karan Edara is in the civil service and has a keen interest in media law and policy. Scenes are personal.

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