While the Information & Broadcasting Ministry (“Ministry”) is responsible for content on television and print industry, they have not yet prescribed any specific law for content regulation on online services. In the absence of any regulatory framework, each platform regulates itself. In the wake of such a situation, the Digital Entertainment Committee of the Internet & Mobile Association of India (“IAMAI”) released “Universal Self-Regulation Code for Online Curated Content Providers” on September 4, 2020 (“Code”) superseding the codes issued in January 2019 and February 2020. The Code of Online Curated Content Providers (“OCCPs”) has been jointly developed by companies carrying on business in India and the organizations that sign on to this Code, commit to (i) making reasonable efforts and acting in good faith to ensure that content offered on their respective services in India is in line with the principles laid out herein; and (ii) conducting themselves in a responsible and transparent manner. The Code provides that there is user-generated content and on the other hand there is curated content.
The objectives of this Code are to: (i) empower consumers to make informed choices on age-appropriate content; (ii) protect the interests of consumers in choosing and accessing the content they want to watch, at their own time and convenience; safeguard and respect creative freedom of content creators and artists; (iii) nurture creativity, create an ecosystem fostering innovation and abide by an individual’s freedom of speech and expression; (iv) provide a mechanism for complaints redressal in relation to content made available by respective OCCPs; and (v) provide an escalation mechanism for redressal of complaints relating to content made available by respective OCCPs.
The OCCPs will enable consumers to make an informed choice about the licensed video content they engage with or the video content they create through self-declarations. Each OCCP will empower consumers by adhering to a process set-out herein for to dealing with complaints concerning content hosted by such OCCP. OCCPs will also receive complaints forwarded by any authority/body/department/nodal agency of the Government of India (including, the National Consumer Helpline of India, Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology and Ministry of Communications) directly or through the Digital Content Complaint Council (“DCCC”).
The signatories to this Code will not make available the content which promotes and encourages disrespect to the sovereignty and integrity of India, represents a child engaged in real or simulated sexual activities or any representation of the sexual parts of a child for primarily sexual purposes, which promotes and encourages terrorism and other forms of violence against India or its institutions, and that has been banned for exhibition or distribution by online video service. The Code seek to protect the consumers’ ability to choose content that they may deem to be appropriate for their viewing to ensure a clear and transparent disclosure system by providing: (i) Age classification/maturity ratings on the subject matter treatment of themes; (ii) A content descriptor or a guidance message specific to each content/programme that indicates and informs the viewer about the nature of the content and advise on viewer discretion; and (iii) Parental and/or access control.
All signatories agree on a two-tier complaint redressal mechanism for ensuring compliance to the Code: (i) Tier-I at the OCCP level; and (ii) Tier-II at the industry level. All signatory OCCPs’ agree to internally appoint/institute, as part of their operational systems, a dedicated person/team/department referred to as the Digital Content Complaint Forum (“DCCF”) to receive and address any consumer related concerns and complaints in relation to content of the respective providers and provide the contact details with name, designation and e-mail address of the DCCF on its website and/or on its online platform. The Code shall set up a separate body under the IAMAI known as the Online Curated Content Providers Governing Council (“OCCP Governing Council”). The Governing Council shall be governed by the “OCCP Council Charter”. Every founding member of OCCP shall nominate one representative in the OCCP Governing Council, decisions would be made by a simple majority. The DCCC shall be Tier-II, which shall be a nine member body consisting of a chairperson (a retired Judge of the Supreme Court or a High Court) and eight other members.
When IAMAI wrote to the Ministry for guidance and seeking support in implementing the Code, the Ministry expressed its displeasure and wrote a letter to IAMAI asking them to look at other existing self-regulatory models like the Broadcasting Content Complaints Council and News Broadcasting Standards Authority, as the Code needs improvements in a lot of aspects like, having provision for independent third-party monitoring, prescribing a definitive Code of Ethics and list of prohibited contents. The existing self-regulatory models can provide the guiding principles for developing a credible self-regulatory and grievance redressal mechanism for OTT. Post this letter, now onus is on the IAMAI to revise the Code so that it has the necessary support
Neeraj Dubey, Partner – Corporate Law