Ministry of Information and Broadcasting held consultations in Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai over the last one and half years wherein OTT players have been urged to develop “self-regulatory mechanism”.

The Government also studied the models in other countries including Singapore, Australia, EU and UK and has gathered that most of them either have an institutional mechanism to regulate digital content or are in the process of setting-up one.

The Rules establish a soft-touch self-regulatory architecture and a Code of Ethics and three tier grievance redressal mechanism for news publishers and OTT Platforms and digital media. Notified under section 87 of Information Technology Act, these Rules empower the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to implement Part-III of the Rules which prescribe the following: Code of Ethics for online news, OTT platforms and digital media:

This Code of Ethics prescribe the guidelines to be followed by OTT platforms and online news and digital media entities. Self-Classification of Content: The OTT platforms, called as the publishers of online curated content in the rules, would self-classify the content into five age based categories– U (Universal), U/A 7+, U/A 13+, U/A 16+, and A (Adult). Platforms would be required to implement parental locks for content classified as U/A 13+ or higher, and reliable age verification mechanisms for content classified as “A”.

OTT or Over The Top Platforms are services that offer viewers access to movies, TV shows and other media directly through the Internet, bypassing cable or satellite systems.   OTT services can be accessed through internet-connected devices like computers, smartphones, set-top boxes and smart TVs. In India’s regulatory parlance, OTT platforms are called ‘publishers of online curated content’. Online curated content is audio-visual content such as films, web-series, podcasts etc. made available to the viewers on demand, including but not limited through subscription by OTT platforms “On demand” means a system where a user is enabled to access, at a time chosen by them, any content in electronic form, which is transmitted over a computer resource and is selected by the user. Popular video-on-demand services in India include Disney+ Hotstar, Amazon Prime Video, Sony LIV etc.

Last year in February, the government had notified the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021 to regulate OTT platforms. The rules establish a soft-touch self-regulatory architecture with a Code of Ethics and three-tier grievance redressal mechanism for OTT platforms.  They provide for self-classification of the content without any involvement of Central Board of Film Certification.

General principles require the platforms to not publish any content which is prohibited under any law and take into consideration the implications, and exercise due caution and discretion in respect of the content which affects the sovereignty and integrity of India.  They should also take into consideration India’s multi-racial and multi-religious context and exercise due caution and discretion when featuring the activities, beliefs, practices, or views of any racial or religious group.   OTT platforms must display age-based content rating and content descriptor for each content. If applicable, they should also display an advisory on viewer discretion at the beginning of the programme.  In addition to this, the rules mandate a three-tier institutional mechanism for handling public grievances.

These are Every publisher should appoint a Grievance Officer based in India for receiving and redressing grievances in 15 days. Also, every publisher needs to become a member of a self-regulating body. Such a body will have to register with the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and address grievances that have not been resolved by the publisher within 15 days. The Ministry of Information Broadcasting and the Inter-Departmental Committee constituted by the Ministry constitute the third-tier Oversight Mechanism.