Towards transparency in OTT regulation

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    In Context

    • The government has issued the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules through which the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (I&B) was given the task of regulating content on OTT and online platforms.

    About the IT Rules 2021

    • Definition of Digital Media: 
      • It covers digitised content that can be transmitted over the internet or computer networks.
      • It also includes intermediaries such as Twitter and Facebook, and publishers of news and current affairs content.
        • Publishers of news and current affairs content will cover online papers, news portals, news agencies, and news aggregators.
      • It also includes so-called curators of such content.
    • Three-Tier Check Structure: 
      • Part III of the rules imposed three-tier complaints and adjudication structure on publishers.
        • Self-regulation.
        • Industry regulatory body headed by a former judge of the Supreme Court and High Court with additional members from an I&B ministry approved panel.
        • Oversight mechanism that includes an inter ministerial committee with the authority to block access to content.
          • The Inter ministerial Committee can also take suo motu cognisance of an issue, and any grievance flagged by the ministry.
      • Co-regulation model: 
        • India’s approach can be termed as a ‘co-regulation’ model where there is ‘self-regulation’ at the industry level and final ‘oversight mechanism’ at the Ministry level
    • Access control mechanisms:
      • The rules mandate access control mechanisms, including parental locks, for content classified as U/A 13+ or higher and a reliable age verification mechanism for programmes classified as ‘A’ (18+).
    • Grievance Appellate Committees:
      • The Central Government shall constitute one or more Grievance Appellate Committees, which shall consist of a Chairperson and such other Members, as the Central Government may appoint.
      • Function:
        • In case a user is not satisfied with the content moderation decision taken by a company’s grievance officer, they can appeal that decision before the proposed government-appointed appeals committee.
      • Every order passed by the Grievance Appellate Committee shall be complied with by the concerned intermediary.

    Challenges

    • Awareness:
      • Though the OTT Rules were notified in 2021, there is little awareness about them among the general public
    • Low compliance:
      • The Rules mandate the display of contact details relating to grievance redressal mechanisms and grievance officers on OTT websites/interface. However, compliance is very low. 
        • In many cases, either the complaint redressal information is not published or published in a manner that makes it difficult for a user to notice easily. 
        • In some cases, the details are not included as part of the OTT app interface
    • Curb Freedom of Artistic Expressions: 
      • It is being criticised that the present norms puts curb on the Freedom to Artistic Expression under Article 19.
    • Selective targeting: 
      • It has also been alleged that the rules will be more misused than for real regulation.
        • There are instances when the government tried to curb certain Anti- Government Agendas while ignoring populist fake news.
    • Rising Intolerance and Populist measure: 
      • The uproar over series like Tandav and AIB Roast are just a reflection of lack of tolerance.
        • Most arguments like abusive language, against the cultural ethos are either vague or irrelevant as they often depict day to day life.

    Suggestions

    • Using the languages of the video:
      • The interpretation of age rating (UA 13+, for example) and the content descriptors ( ‘violence’, for instance) could be in the respective languages of the video (apart from English). 
    • Need for uniformity:
      • There is a need for ensuring uniformity in the way OTT publishers display key information relating to their obligations, timelines for complaint redressal, contact details of grievance officers, etc. 
    • Displaying clear guidelines:
      • Further, age ratings and content descriptors could be shown prominently in full-screen mode for a mandatory minimum duration instead of a few seconds on screen. 
      • The Rules could also provide for clear guidelines to ensure that a film’s classification/rating is prominent and legible in advertisements and promos of OTT content in print and electronic media.
    • Periodic audit:
      • A periodic audit of the actual existence and efficacy of access controls and age verification mechanisms and the display of grievance redressal details by each OTT platform may be undertaken by an independent body. 
    • Periodic campaigns: 
      • The OTT industry associations could be mandated to run periodic campaigns in print and electronic media about the grievance redressal mechanism.
    • Need for a statutory regulator:
      • The Supreme Court and High Courts have underlined the need for establishing a statutory body for regulating broadcast content
      • Pending the constitution of such a statutory regulator for the media, the Inter-Departmental Committee (IDC) membership may be made more broad-based and representative and with security of tenure.

    Way ahead

    • India’s OTT regulatory model seeks to be an efficacious combination of self-regulation and legal backing
      • This is in line with the global trend. 
    • The above initiatives towards enhancing media literacy and transparency will help in furthering this objective, realise the efficacy of ‘self-regulation’ and empower millions of OTT consumers.
    • Global regulations:
      • A survey of OTT regulation in different countries suggests that most of them are yet to come up with a clear statute-backed framework
      • Few of them such as Singapore and Australia stand out. 
        • In Singapore, the Infocomm Media Development Authority is the common regulator for different media. 
        • Aside from instituting a statutory framework and promoting industry self-regulation, its approach to media regulation emphasises on promoting media literacy through public education.

     

    Daily Mains Question

    [Q] Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules follow the ‘co-regulation’ Model. Explain. Also, suggest the ways to further strengthen the regultions for OTT platforms.