Active Stocks
Thu Apr 18 2024 10:05:17
  1. Tata Steel share price
  2. 161.30 0.78%
  1. Power Grid Corporation Of India share price
  2. 278.75 1.60%
  1. Wipro share price
  2. 450.30 0.38%
  1. ITC share price
  2. 424.80 -0.27%
  1. Infosys share price
  2. 1,417.00 0.16%
Business News/ Opinion / Views/  If the consumption of tobacco is not okay, India should just ban it
BackBack

If the consumption of tobacco is not okay, India should just ban it

The government’s new online content guidelines are far too stiff and will prove costly—a big pity if it’s just health tokenism

Instead of burdening OTT platforms with stiff compliance requirements, the government should focus on launching comprehensive public health campaigns that address these underlying causes. (Bloomberg)Premium
Instead of burdening OTT platforms with stiff compliance requirements, the government should focus on launching comprehensive public health campaigns that address these underlying causes. (Bloomberg)

The ministry of health and family welfare’s announcement that it will impose additional anti-tobacco controls on Online Curated Content Providers (OCCPs) has sparked widespread conversation. While well-intended, the government appears to be prioritizing treating symptoms instead of addressing the underlying cause. Opting for these regulations rather than considering a ban on the production or sale of tobacco, a known harmful substance, begs the question: Are these guidelines mere tokenism? If so, then it is important to recognize that this gesture may come at a high cost.

OCCPs have been mandated to comply with a tech solution within only 90 days. The directives are vague and inapplicable to over-the-top (OTT) platforms. Why? A web series, typically, has no defined mid-section because it is divided into seasons and is served to consumers in multiple languages. The guidelines specify that textual warnings must be displayed in the language of the audio track. Simply translating a title into various languages can render the content commercially unviable. Also, unlike a movie theatre experience, on OTT platforms, consumers can pause what they are watching and come back to it later.

Let us examine the responsibilities that OCCPs must undertake to comply with the newly issued guidelines. First, they are required to identify all content in their library that contains the use or representation of tobacco products, a task that cannot be accomplished by automated technology. Consequently, a manual review of a large amount of content, possibly taking millions of hours, is required in which individuals must meticulously observe and identify instances for technological intervention—which currently lacks industry support. The financial repercussions of this requirement alone are enormous, diverting resources that could have been allocated to content creation, rather than compliance efforts that may be superfluous.

As it happens, OCCPs already follow criteria that require them to rate certain classes of content differently and display warnings. Nothing, in my view, prevents the government from introducing guidelines for stand-up comedy shows; after all, they have huge television rating points (TRPs), and the audience for this content could act as ambassadors for anti-tobacco messages.

People have started viewing content as short as 10 or 15 minutes. Imagine trying to apply the guidelines on these shows. It has the potential to cause severe confusion. Also, a blanket regulation that fails to distinguish between large and small online streaming platforms could stir hostility in this industry’s ecosystem and stifle innovation. Further, stringent compliance requirements may deter international content creators from incorporating tobacco warnings in their work, which would result in popular international titles being inaccessible in India.

Legally, it is the responsibility of content owners to comply with the ministry’s new directives, and OCCPs are expected to offer tech solutions that can be extended to their partners. If content owners refuse to comply, OCCPs will bear the entire burden of non-compliance. Does it matter to the government if massive volumes of content go offline because it is impractical for OCCPs to comply with its new regulations? Tough luck for consumers.

The situation clearly calls for a more balanced approach to content regulation in the country. It is critical that the Centre re-evaluates the current guidelines and adopts a path that does not hurt this industry’s growth. Significant insights can be gained from looking at global best practices, such as those adopted by Singapore, Australia and the EU. These exemplary models achieve a delicate equilibrium, effectively addressing concerns of tobacco harm without imposing excessively burdensome disclaimer requirements.

When it comes to depicting tobacco consumption online, the Indian government would be well advised to base its regulation on a strategy that can be effective. While warnings and disclaimers do help educate consumers about the health risks of smoking, it is also important to address broader triggers and influencers of the habit, like peer pressure and mental stress. Instead of burdening OTT platforms with stiff compliance requirements, the government should focus on launching comprehensive public health campaigns that address these underlying causes.

Finally, a multifaceted approach would be more effective in tackling the complex issue of tobacco consumption and safeguarding public health without impeding growth in promising sectors like entertainment. It is essential to strike a balance between regulation and the need for innovation, creating an environment that stimulates responsible content creation while also addressing the larger societal factors that contribute to tobacco addiction.

The government should not implement a one-size-fits-all plan. It would help if inputs are sought from industry stakeholders, so that it can create an inclusive and enabling policy framework for new-age audiences and platforms. By taking diverse perspectives into consideration, the government would be better placed to develop content regulations that strike the right balance.

Unlock a world of Benefits! From insightful newsletters to real-time stock tracking, breaking news and a personalized newsfeed – it's all here, just a click away! Login Now!

Catch all the Business News, Market News, Breaking News Events and Latest News Updates on Live Mint. Download The Mint News App to get Daily Market Updates.
More Less
Published: 04 Jul 2023, 09:04 PM IST
Next Story footLogo
Recommended For You
Switch to the Mint app for fast and personalized news - Get App