Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021
Author: Somya Agrawal
With the advent of streaming services, over-the-top or OTT platforms are endeavored to be the future of India’s Entertainment industry. With the diversification of content and growing interest of the audience, the digital platforms are anticipated to be the new space for hardcore movie fans and in addition to this, covid-19 has further ignited the growth of a flower that was already booming. The closure of cinema halls has led to the emergence of OTT as the new big screen and hence the expedient situation has led to a complete overhaul of the ever-evolving dynamics of OTT business in India.
But, due to the steep increase in this sector, some major drawbacks have also been accelerated wherein the society is exposed to major sensitive content especially the young age group leading to an adverse psychological impact. For instance, the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTUK) of Turkey and the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) (Singapore) now keep a close eye on the OTT content. Australia regulates online content under the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 through a complaints-based mechanism. The UK does not have specific regulations on online streaming content. Saudi Arabia’s anti-cybercrime law acts as the watchdog framework for regulating all online content. In the context of it, in the last week of August 2020, around 15 OTT platforms, including Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, ZEE5, ALTBalaji, and MX Player, signed a self-regulation code, to govern their streaming content as it was a long pending demand from the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.
The signatories concluded how each show will have maturity ratings and content descriptors (e.g., language, violence, sex). The code created by the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) will have an internal committee and an advisory panel to deal with appeals and complaints. According to the provisions enshrined by the government in the act, OTT platforms will not stream content, which is:
● Content which provokes against the sovereignty and integrity of India;
● Content which endangers the security of the State;
● Content that is detrimental to India's friendly relations with foreign countries.
● India's multi-racial and multi-religious context.
● Violating activities, beliefs, practices, or views of any racial or religious group in India.
It also considers categories of rating from U to A based on several factors like language, nudity, violence, etc.
The Rules describing a Code of Ethics with a three-tier content regulation mechanism have been framed under the Information Technology Act, 2000(Act 22 of 2002) . They would come into force with their notification in the Official Gazette.
Section - 4, Information Technology Act provides 16 areas to be taken care of with due diligence.
The IT Ministry shall also constitute an Inter-Departmental Committee consisting of representatives from:
● Ministry of Information and Broadcasting
● Ministry of Women and Child Development
● Ministry of Law and Justice
● Ministry of Home Affairs
● Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology
● Ministry of External Affairs
● Ministry of Defence
● Indian Computer Emergency Response Team
The functions of this Committee shall include hearing complaints regarding violation or contravention of the Code of Ethics —
● arising out of grievances of decisions taken at Level I or II, including where no such decision is taken within the time specified
● Suo moto, if in the opinion of the Committee such cognizance is necessary, for reasons to be recorded in writing.
● Referred to it by the Ministry.
It shall then make its suggestions to the Ministry as under:
● Issue warning, censure, admonish or reprimand such entity
● Require an apology by such entity
● Required such entities to include a warning card or a disclaimer.
The Ministry shall establish an online Grievance Portal for receiving and processing all grievances from the public in respect of the Code of Ethics.
Three-tier grievance redressal infrastructure for news sites and OTT platforms is as follows -
● Level I - Self-regulation by the applicable entity.
● Level II - Regulation by the self-regulating bodies of the applicable entities.
● Level III - Oversight mechanism by the Central Government.
The code also prescribes the appointment of a " Grievances Officer" in India who will aim to resolve the disputes within a stipulated time of 15 days from the Grievances portal. If the complainant is not satisfied with the settlement order of the officer, he could pursue the second tier that is to the appellate authorities, self-regulatory bodies. It also ensures that the self-regulatory body will be headed by a retired judge of the Supreme Court, or a high court, or an independent eminent personality from the field of media, broadcasting, entertainment, child rights, human rights, or similar other relevant fields. The body, with a total of six members, will have to register itself within the I&B Ministry within 30 days of its constitution.
The latest political drama series of Amazon prime," Tandav", has created a precedent for other OTT platforms in the wake of this Code of Ethics. Contradictory, the makers of Tandav were not mandated to delete scenes, if there would have been an absence of any regulation governing the OTT industry, but they did so fearing arrest in connection with an FIR filed in Uttar Pradesh wherein they listed grave charges — [promoting enmity between different groups, injuring or defiling a place of worship, public mischief, forgery], and other charges under the Information Technology Act.