Regulation of OTT Platforms in India

 
 
INTRODUCTION

Over the top (OTT) media refers to any platform or service that allows viewers to stream film and/or television content online. This method of streaming media bypasses the conventional method of using a cable or satellite provider. There are over 40 providers currently offering their services in India, with international providers such as Amazon and Netflix, to national providers such as BIGflix and JioCinema. The OTTs have been giving the traditional broadcasting platforms a run for their money; as they provide a range of advantages to the users. With convenience and cost efficiency as the top benefits, the OTTs also provide a wide selection of content to choose from which includes original content from each provider. OTTs have gained much more popularity owing to the lockdown caused by Corona virus, and are predicted to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 11.28% between 2018 and 2023.[1]

STATUS QUO IN INDIA

With the increasing digitalization of all fields in India, OTTs have been growing in a rapid pace as the ideal model for entertainment and media. Whilst all other media platforms are regulated and have various legislations governing them, the biggest concern in regard to OTTs is that it is not duly regulated. The case ‘Justice for Rights Foundation v. Union of India’[2]is just one amongst 20 cases that are brought to court against the OTTs. However, this case has highlighted most of the issues that are brought against the OTTs. It states the need for regulation of such online platforms are necessary as they contain indecent content that has been claimed to be religiously inappropriate, vulgar, and one that views women in an inappropriate and objectified manner.

In view of this, and based on anticipation of regulation, the OTTs had established self-regulation codes that were essentially drafted by the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), a non-profit organization that represents digital platforms through means of a unified front. For the purpose of a self-regulatory body, the IAMAI proposed the idea of Digital Content Complaints Council (DCCC). The mechanism recommended by the IAMAI for grievance redressal requires each individual OTT provider to appoint an individual or a team internally in order to address the grievance brought forth.

The proposed code, also known as ‘Code of Best Practices for Online Curated Content’ aims to make illegal: any content that is derogatory to the national flag or national emblem; any content that promotes illicit activities such as terrorism, child pornography/abuse etc.; any content that gives offence to religious sentiments of any community; and any other content which has been expressly banned by the nation. However, the code has been criticized for using umbrella terms, and the non-specificity of the language used may cause violations of speech and expression in the future.

Furthermore, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has time and again refused to support and validate these codes on various grounds. The main concern of the Ministry is the lack of third-parties to the said regulation and the requirement of a more efficient system for redressal of issues. The Ministry has advised the IAMAI to use the Broadcasting Content Complaints Council (BCCC) and News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA) as references of self-regulatory structures.

Moreover, the Supreme Court has also passed a notification to the Central Government, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and Internet and Mobile Association of India requiring all pending cases that are concerned with OTTs to be moved to the Supreme Court in order to regulate the said platforms.

OUTCOMES OF REGULATION OF OTTS

The strongest argument for the regulation of OTTs is that all other media platforms such as print media, newspapers, films, advertisements etc are all regulated by competent authorities and legislations, whereas OTTs is not governed by any such authority. The non-regulation of the OTT predominantly gives an unfair advantage against the other media platforms that are regulated.

Moreover, with the fast and strong growth of the OTT industry, it is imperative that it should be regulated, so as to protect the platforms against each other as well as, against the users.
The involvement of external parties in the said regulation ensures that there is fair pricing, easy and widespread access to the platforms, and in the case of an infringement of a fundamental right or public policy, an appropriate remedy is awarded to the infringed party.
The most sought-after outcome from the regulation however, is the regulation of the content provided in such platforms. It is asserted that the regulation of such content will promote healthy, acceptable and sanctioned content across all platforms.

However on the flip side, such regulation of content can also prove to be a bane. To begin with, many of the said OTT platforms provide original content which they would be reluctant to modify. Though the purpose of such regulation is to prohibit illegal and illicit content to be shown, the regulation will gradually cause other matters to be censored. This includes content that may be ‘politically sensitive’ and can possibly become subject to censorship solely on the basis of the whims and fancies of a dominant political party. Censorship undoubtedly also curbs creative expression, which has been a key advantage that the OTTs enjoyed as compared to other censored and regulated media platforms. Unnecessary censorship can also violate the right to freedom of speech and expression as provided under Article 19 of the Constitution of India.
 
Regulation of content would also mean compulsory licensing and certification to be obtained for each individual media content to be published. This unequivocally indicates tedious and strenuous procedures which usually are unnecessary. This is alongside the fact that the Internet is a global platform, and to regulate online content is near to impossible and to a large extent is of no purpose. It only portrays a false sense of authority over the platforms and thus can prove to futile and wasteful of resources.   
CONCLUSION

OTTs are unquestionably a vehicle to technological development and growth in India. Though the regulation of such platforms is desired, the government should also be careful not to curb the distinct advantages that OTTs provide. Self-regulation of such platforms will be ideal as it would prevent the interference of other authorities and thus allow the free flow of creativity and awareness of various global issues. A stringent policy and regulation in this sector will also discourage future investors thereby directly and negatively affecting the industry. Over- regulation will also prove to be unfavorable to the users, who will likely resort to pirated versions of the censored material. Therefore, regulation of OTTs should be kept at its minimum and be used only for the most necessary purposes; as the contrary will cause more harm than good.ir?t=legally01 21&l=am2&o=31&a=8189530429 

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[1] PwC’s Global Entertainment & Media Outlook 2019–2023

[2] Justice for Rights Foundation v. Union of India, WP(C) 11164/2018

 

This article is authored by Lenity Thomas, student at Christ University, Bangalore

Disclaimer

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the views and opinions of Legally Flawless or its members.

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