The OTT Code: Streaming Now

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OTT platforms are gaining immense popularity in India. With the increase in popularity, a need to regulate them was felt. How will this regulation code play in the future? Let us look into it.

Introduction

Over the Top Platforms or OTTs have seeped their way into our daily lives. There’s no denying that they are a go-to thing for almost every age group! They have given a tough competition to the mainstream mediums of entertainment like Television. With their ever-growing popularity, they are all set to grow at a CAGR of 21.82% to reach Rs. 11,977 crore by 2023.

One of the primary reasons for their growth is the variation of content to pick and choose from. This indeed makes the Consumer feel like an important individual and in the power of making his/her own choice. However, the OTT platforms were asked to regulate themselves in terms of censorship, content, and grievance redressal mechanism by the Government. A 100 days ultimatum period was given to the platforms to come up with a code of conduct. Owing to this ultimatum, 15 OTT Platforms signed a self-regulation code.

However, what will be a matter of discussion is the playout of this code in the future and the repercussions thereof.

The Legal Perspective

The Information and Broadcast Minister held a meeting on 2nd March 2020 and asked the OTT platforms to regulate themselves. This was because of various contentions about the content being streamed on these platforms. To solve this issue, the Internet and Mobile Association of India drafted a Code called “Code of best practices for online curated content providers” in January 2019. The code proposed a formation of the Digital Content Complaint Council (DCCC), an adjudicatory body that will look into the complaints against the OTT players.

The code laid down that the content shouldn’t be disrespectful towards the national flag or emblem. Shouldn’t sexually represent a child, shouldn’t be outrageous deliberately towards any community. Shouldn’t promote terrorism and should be consistent with the laws of the country.  The code did not outline the penalties, which is why a new draft was made.

Freedom being restricted?

There’s a strong argument that the self-regulation code is indeed a way to limit freedom of speech and expression. The Indian Constitution guarantees this freedom to every individual. Although not complete, with certain restrictions. However, the move by the Government to give an ultimatum to these OTT players can be construed as a way to suppress individual voices.

The Gen-Z or the current population prefers OTT because of the way and manner in which content is presented. It is considered to be less restricted than our Television shows, in the Indian Context.

This should be seen more in the societal perspective as well. Indian shows that are aired on Television are usually suited for family watching. Television is a medium of connection between families. OTT platforms, on the other hand, have content that may not be best suited for family watching. Censorship in OTT might solve this issue. However, certain stories need to be told; certain truths need to be spoken. It will only be a matter of time to see how the code affects the bold content present on the platforms.

Presence of other laws

Before the existence of this code, other laws were indirectly regulating the content. Laws like the Information Technology Act, Indian Penal Code, Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986, and the like. The code is a special law that will direct cover any violation done. But, the need for the code was not felt as much. The media have also highlighted discontent from various owners. They think it’s imposing a rather unfair restriction on their freedom to tell stories. However, this code will lead to faster grievance redressal and enhanced viewing experience for all age groups.

Road Ahead

India’s code is not as comprehensive. It leaves the ground for vagueness and loopholes. This can work either for the benefit of the signatories or against them as well. The code adopted in Singapore (you can read it here) on the other hand, is a much more comprehensive and detailed code. It not only talks about content streamlining but also covers aspects like advertising. It further defines various concepts like horror, nudity, depiction, and the like. The code further lays down the rating criteria for each of the separate categories.

The discontent over the code is evident. The signatories still feel it’s an attempt to limit their freedom. Looking at it from the Government’s perspective, it is done to regulate and streamline the providers for better and age-appropriate viewing.

The code provides for a quick redressal system which will work in favour of both consumers and providers. The code will help the providers to assess their content and provide for better content. It will keep them on their toes! This code shouldn’t come as the Government’s extreme check on the content. It should still give the OTT players the freedom they deserve. It is only a matter of time to understand the implications of the code.


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