The Information and Broadcasting Ministry has directed the Digital Media publishers and OTT streaming platforms to share details of compliance with the new Information Technology Rules, 2021, within 15 days.
In February this year, the Centre had introduced new rules to regulate the OTT streaming platforms and the digital news outlets along with other internet-based businesses and organizations, apart from the social media platforms. The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, included separate guidelines for Social Media platforms, Digital Media platforms, and Streaming platforms. While the rules were announced in February and the platforms were given three months to comply with them, most of them had chosen to ignore the rules. As a result, the govt has given 15 days to the streaming platforms and digital media houses to report their compliance within 15 days.
New guidelines for Digital Media
The new guidelines for digital media publishers have introduced a three-tier regulatory mechanism, and the three tiers are- self-regulation by the entity, self-regulation by the self-regulating body of the applicable entities, and oversight mechanism by the Central Government.
For this purpose, the digital media houses will have to appoint a Grievance Redressal Officer based in India, and they will have to come together to establish a self-regulatory body. For the third level, the ministry will develop an Oversight Mechanism, which will include an Inter-Departmental Committee for hearing grievances.
Publishers have to self-regulate their portals by appointing a Grievance Redressal Officer based in India who shall be responsible for the redressal of grievances received and take a decision of every grievance within 15 days.
The self-regulatory body will be headed by a retired judge of the Supreme Court, a High Court or independent eminent person with no more than six members. This body which will be registered with the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting will oversee the adherence by the publishers to the Code of Ethics and in case of a grievance unsolved by the publisher in the stipulated time, will address it as well.
An oversight mechanism will be formulated under the I&B Ministry which will publish a charter for self-regulating bodies, including Codes of Practices. Under this, an Inter-Departmental Committee for hearing grievances will also be established.
The government will also establish an online grievance portal, where complaints and grievances regarding any content published by digital media sites can be submitted. The concerned entity will have to respond to such complaints, and if the complainant is not satisfied with the response, the same can be escalated to the concerned self-regulating body and then the central government.
The digital news outlets have been ordered to adhere to the journalistic ethics and norms as prescribed by the Press Council of India or the Programme Code issued under the Cable Television Networks Regulation Act, “thereby providing a level playing field between the offline (print, TV) and digital media.”
New guidelines for streaming platforms
The government also have issued guidelines for online entertainment platforms. The guidelines prescribed appropriate self-classification of the shows, instead of directing any censorship. It says that the streaming platforms will have rate content in three categories, U- Universal, U/A, and A- Adult.
The U category means it is suitable for all age groups. The U/A group has been further divided into different categories, which are U/A – General, which is suitable for all but may contain scenes not suitable for young children; U/A – 7+, suitable for 7 years and above, U/A – 13+, and U/A – 16+. An A category movie or show can be watched by people aged 18 years and above only. Shows and movies containing nudity without any sexual context can be rated as U/A 16+.
The guidelines say that content on such platforms should take into account the potentially offensive impact of matters such as caste, race, gender, religion, disability or sexuality which may be depicted in such streaming shows. The ratings of the shows will depend on the language used, the depiction of sex and nudity, fear, threat and horror, and violence. Such a rating of shows and movies, instead of censoring them like what is done in the case of films in India, is the international practice.
The rules for the streaming platforms are the least controversial, as it does not prescribe any censorship for content shown on the platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime etc, like people were fearing. The global streaming platforms already have the system of rating the shows and movies, therefore most of them are already complying with the new rules. They may have to re-adjust some of the categories, but that is not a major change.
I&B Minister says ‘people happy with new guidelines’
Justifying the new set of rules after alleged complaints about the same, Cabinet Minister Prakash Javadekar said, “People are happy with the guidelines.” He also dismissed the claims that relevant stakeholders were not consulted before issuing the guidelines. Javadekar informed that proper consultation was conducted with the stakeholders in Mumbai.