Code of ethics: What OTT platforms, such as Netflix and Hotstar, may have to follow
The government is considering a code of ethics for over-the-top (OTT) platforms such as Netflix and digital media companies. The code is likely to mandate intermediaries and online curated content companies to exercise “due caution and discretion” while airing content that may impact India’s sovereignty and integrity, threaten or jeopardise the state’s security and be detrimental to the country’s foreign relations.
HT on Wednesday reported social media companies and streaming service providers will be brought under a three-tier regulatory framework, according to proposed new rules. The rules will cover companies such as Facebook and OTT platforms. In a document running into 30 pages, reviewed by HT, the government has laid down the rules and the framework for regulating both sets of companies, which remain largely unregulated, although some provisions of the Information Technology Act apply to them.
In the document, titled Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, the government cites powers provided to it under section 87 of the Information Technology Act, 2000. This section allows the government to make rules to carry out the provisions of the law by notification in the Official Gazette and in the Electronic Gazette.
The government is also deliberating extending existing legislation such as the Cable Table Television Networks Regulation Act, Press Council Act, and other relevant laws to govern online content. The laws have so far only been applicable to traditional media such as newspapers and television.
Critics have expressed concerns over the regulations saying they may lead to censorship.
The code is also expected to ask OTT platforms to improve the accessibility of content to the persons with disabilities. It is likely to mandate content classification for online curated content platforms, which so far has not been compulsory, including a universal rating (U), U/A seven plus, U/A thirteen plus, U/A sixteen plus and Adult, for people over 18. The officials said the classifications will have to be prominently displayed.
The OTT platforms are also expected to enable access control mechanisms, including parental locks, for content for those over 13. The platforms may also need to have a reliable age mechanism regulation.
The content also has to be classified according to context, theme, tone and impact, and target audience. The most challenging themes, which the government has considered, include drug misuse, violence, paedophilia, sex, racial or communal hatred.
The platforms are also expected to take into account the potentially offensive impact of a film on matters of caste, race, gender, religion, disability, or sexuality. The ratings will also depend on how sensitively they portray the content. The glamorous portrayal of drug use, violence, alcohol, or tobacco is also likely to be judged more harshly. Nudity will not allowed to be portrayed for classification under U/A sixteen. There will also be fear, threat, and horror classification for younger audiences.
The three-tier self-regulation system will be put in place to ensure compliance with the code. TV regulation also has a similar three-tier system, but it is not formally defined.
The first tier, the self-regulating system, will ask the platforms to establish a grievance redressal mechanism. The details of the grievance redressal officer have to be prominently displayed.
The second tier or the self-regulatory body will be headed by a retired judge of the Supreme Court or High Court. An appeal may be referred to this body if a person believes her complaint has not been appropriately addressed.
The third tier, or the oversight mechanism by the government, will develop an inter-ministerial committee to ensure adherence to the code. The committee will be the apex of the regulatory framework and have representatives from the ministries of information technology, information and broadcasting, home, law, external affairs, defence, and women and child development.
The committee can recommend the blocking of content in contravention of the Code. It can also take suo motu cognisance of an issue.