NEW DELHI :
The ministry of information and broadcasting (I&B) is looking to finalize a model for the certification of online video streaming content soon after Diwali, people familiar with the development said. While nine video streaming sites in India had decided to adopt a self-regulatory Code of Best Practices under the aegis of the Internet and Mobile Association of India (Iamai) earlier this year, a couple of new shows have raised concerns in the corridors of power, they said.
These include Leila on Netflix that hints directly at the repercussions of right-wing Hindu fundamentalism and the kind of dystopian society it could create, and Gandii Baat on ALTBalaji that features erotic-themed stories from rural India. To be sure, both Netflix and ALTBalaji were among those, along with Hotstar, Voot, ZEE5, Arre, SonyLIV, Reliance Jio and Eros Now, that had agreed to self-regulation. The self-regulatory code by streaming platforms banned content which is anyway prohibited, including child pornography, content encouraging acts of terrorism and disrespect to national symbols or outraging religious sentiments, among others.
Further, self-regulation classifies content into separate and distinct categories, such as meant for general or universal viewing; content that requires parental guidance and/or content that is solely meant for age-appropriate audiences (such age-appropriate audience may be further sub-categorized into different age groups). Platforms are also required to display a content descriptor or guidance message that indicates and informs the viewer about the nature of the content, particularly around age-inappropriate content for minors.
Lastly, the signatories to the code agreed to a grievance redressal mechanism whereby they would appoint or institute, as part of their operational systems, a dedicated person, team or department, to receive and address any consumer-related concerns and complaints in relation to the content they are showcasing.
The I&B ministry did not respond to Mint’s queries on its plans for a certification provision. “Our pitch to the government for the past few months has been multi-fold," said a senior executive from a leading over-the-top (OTT) video streaming platform, on condition of anonymity.
“The video streaming industry in India is barely five years old. Its basic tenet always was democratization and the government cannot tell us how to run it on the basis of what it thinks is right or wrong, without regulating the broader social media and internet space in the country, where all kinds of objectionable content is readily available, be it Facebook or apps like Tik Tok," the person added.
Besides, most OTT services, such as Hotstar, ZEE5 and VOOT, in India are owned and operated by television broadcast networks, which already know how to adhere to multiple regulations when it comes to the small screen. “They will not be stupid enough to disturb the harmony of a space that is working towards digital inclusion, or bringing all of India under the ambit of digital education and content consumption," the senior executive said, adding: “This just shows an inherent lack of trust in us."
To be sure, the certification will not be extended to international content available on these platforms, but will only apply to Indian originals, the first person cited above said.
Yet, other OTT platforms are optimistic about the new move. They are certain that it will not lead to censorship. Most say, in its conversations, the government has hinted at mostly wanting a mechanism for taking a platform to task for objectionable content, not actually filtering everything that goes out.
“I don’t think they will come down too hard on the industry. The idea is to come across as fair and transparent because there is some kind of clamp on the movie and TV industries," said a second streaming platform executive. “The goal is to get OTT players to become reliable and responsible as the whole ecosystem grows and cord-cutting becomes a reality in India."
According to the Ficci-EY media and entertainment industry report 2019, paid video subscribers grew from around 7 million in 2017 to 12-15 million in 2018, while video subscription revenues grew almost four times in 2018 to ₹13.4 billion. Countries, such as the US and the UK, do not look at certification or censorship norms for online video, if content is deemed offensive in terms of, say, hate speech or child pornography, it is seen as a criminal offence.