The OTT Rules were notified in 2021, through which Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (I&B) was given the task of regulating content on OTT and online platforms, but there is little awareness about them among the general public.
Dimensions of the Article:
- What is Over-the-Top (OTT) Media Service?
- Rules governing OTT Platforms
- Low Compliance and need for media literacy
- Need for Transparency
- Regulation of broadcast content
- Way Forward
What is Over-the-Top (OTT) Media Service?
- An over-the-top (OTT) media service is a streaming media service offered directly to viewers via the Internet.
- OTT bypasses cable, broadcast, and satellite television platforms, the companies that traditionally act as a controller or distributor of such content.
- The term is most synonymous with subscription-based video-on-demand (SVoD) services that offer access to film and television content.
Rules governing OTT Platforms:
- Through the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules issued by the government, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (I&B) was given the task of regulating content on OTT and online platforms.
- In India, there is ‘self-regulation’ at the industry level and final ‘oversight mechanism’ at the Ministry level.
- The Rules provide for a grievance redressal mechanism and a code of ethics. They 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+).
- A survey of OTT regulation in different countries also suggests that most of them are yet to come up with a clear statute-backed framework.
Low Compliance and need for media literacy:
- 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.
- Hence 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.
- The manner, text, language and frequency for display of vital information could be enshrined in the Rules.
- 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. Such a rule exists for films under the Cinematograph Act.
Need for Transparency:
- An independent body can be given the task of 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.
- There is a need to publish full description of complaints received by OTT providers and self-regulatory bodies and decisions given thereon in the public domain.
- Currently, though the Rules require disclosure of grievance details by publishers and self-regulating bodies, the reporting formats only capture the number of complaints received and decided.
- A dedicated umbrella website by the ministry can be created to view the published details of applicable Rules, content codes, advisories, contact details for complaints/appeals, etc.
- The above details will be viewed by the public and the government authorities and thus enhancing transparency.
Regulation of broadcast content:
- As per the current rules, the Inter-Departmental Committee (IDC) recommends the course of action on OTT content violations, the Secretary of the Ministry is competent to take the final decision.
- The Supreme Court and High Courts have underlined the need for establishing a statutory body for regulating broadcast content.
- Periodic campaigns in print and electronic media about the grievance redressal mechanism can be run by the OTT industry associations.
- The rules must include the provision for the disclosure or publication of an apology/warning/censure on the platform or website.
- Financial penalties on erring entities may also be provided.
- Hence there is a need to evolve a common set of guidelines for content, classification, age ratings, violations, etc. to ensure uniform governance of the contents across the platforms.
- India’s OTT regulatory model is an efficacious combination of self-regulation and legal backing which is in-line with the global trend.
- This would raise India’s stature at an international level and serve as a model for other nations to emulate.
- 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.
-Source: The Hindu