Measures to Improve Transparency in OTT Governance

It has been two years since the government issued the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, which delegated the task of regulating content on OTT and online platforms to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (I&B). India’s approach can be described as a light-touch co-regulation model, with industry self-regulation and a final oversight mechanism at the Ministry level.

What exactly is OTT Media?

  • An over-the-top (OTT) media service is a streaming media service that is delivered to viewers directly over the Internet.
  • OTT avoids the companies that traditionally act as a controller or distributor of such content, such as cable, broadcast, and satellite television platforms.
  • The term is most commonly associated with subscription-based video-on-demand (SVoD) services that provide film and television content.
  • They are usually accessed through websites on personal computers, as well as apps on mobile devices (such as smartphones and tablets), digital media players, or televisions with built-in Smart TV platforms.

The Digital Media Ethics Code for Digital Media and OTT Platforms

  • This Code of Ethics establishes the guidelines that OTT platforms, online news, and digital media entities must follow.
  • Platforms must self-classify content into five age-based categories and implement parental controls and age verification mechanisms.
  • Norms for news: Publishers of news on digital media would be required to follow the Press Council of India’s Norms of Journalistic Conduct and the Programme Code under the Cable Television Networks Regulation Act.
  • Self-regulation by the Publisher: The Publisher shall appoint a Grievance Redressal Officer based in India who shall be in charge of resolving grievances received by it. Every grievance received by the officer must be resolved within 15 days.
  • Self-Regulatory Body: Publishers may establish a self-regulatory body with up to six members, led by a retired judge or eminent person. The organisation must register with the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, monitor publisher compliance with the Code of Ethics, and address grievances that are not resolved within 15 days by publishers.
  • Oversight Mechanism: The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting must create an oversight mechanism as well as an Inter-Departmental Committee to hear complaints.

Guidelines for Using Social Media

  • Intermediaries Must Perform Due Diligence: The Rules require intermediaries, including social media intermediaries, to exercise due diligence. If the intermediary fails to exercise due diligence, the safe harbour provisions will not apply to them.
  • The Rules seek to empower users by requiring intermediaries, including social media intermediaries, to establish a grievance redressal mechanism for receiving and resolving complaints from users or victims.
  • Ensure Online User Safety and Dignity, Especially for Women: Intermediaries must remove or disable access to content that violates individual privacy and dignity within 24 hours of receiving a complaint.

What are the issues?

  • Inadequate compliance and public awareness: OTT Rules require the display of contact information for grievance redressal mechanisms and officers, but compliance is low and public awareness is low. Despite the fact that the OTT Rules were notified in 2021, the general public is unaware of them.
  • Lack of Transparency in Complaint Redressal Information: In many cases, complaint redressal information is either not published or is published in a way that makes it difficult for a user to notice. In some cases, the information is not included in the OTT app interface.

What should be done?

  • Uniformity is required in displaying key information on obligations, timelines, and contact information for grievance redressal.
  • Specified guidelines: Rules should specify the manner, text, language, and frequency with which vital information should be displayed, and industry associations should be mandated to run print and electronic media campaigns.
  • Description in each language: Age ratings and content descriptors should be prominently displayed in full-screen mode for a mandatory minimum duration in the video’s respective languages.
  • Advertisements should include the following guidelines: Guidelines should ensure that film classification/rating is legible and prominent in print and electronic media advertisements and promotions for OTT content.

Transparency and Accountability in OTT Platform Governance Measures

  • Periodic Audits by an Independent Body: Each OTT platform should conduct periodic audits to ensure the existence and effectiveness of access controls, age verification mechanisms, and the display of grievance redressal details.
  • Dedicated Umbrella Website: The Ministry could set up a dedicated umbrella website to publish applicable rules, content codes, advisories, contact information for complaints/appeals, and so on.
  • Publish Complaint Specifics in the Public Domain: OTT providers and self-regulatory bodies should publish detailed complaint descriptions and decisions in the public domain; providers should upload this information to a dedicated website for transparency.
  • IDC Membership Should Be Broader and More Representative: The Inter-Departmental Committee (IDC), which consists of officer-nominees from various ministries of the Central government and domain experts, should be made more broad-based and representative, with tenure security.
  • Provision for Disclosure: The Rules should include a provision for the disclosure or publication of an apology/warning/censure on the platform or website.
  • Financial Penalties: Erring entities may face financial penalties.
  • Common Content Governance Guidelines: To govern content uniformly across platforms in the age of media convergence, a common set of guidelines for content, classification, age ratings, violations, and so on should be developed.

@the end

In line with global trends, India’s OTT regulatory model seeks to strike a balance between self-regulation and legal backing. The government’s efforts to improve media literacy and transparency will not only encourage effective self-regulation, but will also empower millions of OTT users. These initiatives are critical to achieving the goal of raising India’s international standing and serving as a model for other countries to follow.

And get notified everytime we publish a new blog post.