The health ministry agreed to find ‘pragmatic solutions’ for stricter anti-tobacco warnings during a closed door meeting with executives of streaming companies
During the meeting, I&B secretary Apurva Chandra highlighted concerns related to implementation of the norms and suggested that a health warning could be displayed when users log in
In May, the Centre directed the streaming platforms to carry anti-tobacco warnings at the beginning and middle of their shows
The health ministry is reportedly considering relaxing its June 2023 order which mandated streaming platforms to show anti-tobacco warnings.
According to Reuters, the ministry agreed to find ‘pragmatic solutions’ for stricter anti-tobacco warnings during a closed door meeting between the officials of the health ministry and information & broadcasting (I&B) ministry and executives of streaming companies on August 28.
Earlier in May, the union government issued a notification directing the streaming platforms to carry anti-tobacco warnings at the beginning and middle of their shows. It also mandated the platforms to display a static anti-tobacco health warning at the bottom of the screen when tobacco products are being displayed or used during the programme.
During the meeting, the executives are said to have urged the two ministries to relax these mandates and sought more time, beyond the three-month deadline, to comply with the rules.
As per the report, I&B secretary Apurva Chandra batted for the OTTs and highlighted concerns related to implementation of the norms with regards to ‘existing library of content, foreign content, and inclusion of health spots in the middle of the content’. Chandra suggested that an appropriate health warning could be displayed when users log in to the platforms.
This is in line with issues flagged by Netflix previously, saying that the move could force OTTs to edit millions of hours of existing content and would entail heavy costs. The companies have also claimed that the anti-tobacco directives will ‘hit customer experience’ and push production houses to block their content in the country.
During the meeting, health secretary Sudhansh Pant is said to have taken cognisance of the matter and noted that the ministry would look into ‘pragmatic solutions for operationalisation and compliance’ of the directives in the larger interest of public health.
It is still not clear whether the government will move ahead with relaxing or changing the rules but the discussions appear to be moving in the positive direction for streaming platforms.
As per the report, the meeting also saw the streaming players ‘supporting the rules in spirit and expressed their commitment to display a disclaimer at the beginning of their shows and no promotion of tobacco products on their platforms.
This comes a couple of months after Minister of State (MoS) for Health SP Singh Baghel told the Parliament that the health ministry held due consultations with the I&B ministry and the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) before formulating the directives.
He also flagged the growing concern that the popularity of OTT platforms among children and youth could be used to promote tobacco products.
Prior to that, industry body Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) also shot off a letter to the health ministry saying that the tobacco warnings would be impossible to implement for streaming platforms and that such directives will impinge on the content creators’ freedom of expression.
OTT streaming platforms have seen rapid adoption in India on the back of growing penetration of affordable smartphones and dirt cheap internet tarrifs. As a result, the country now plays host to a slew of domestic and global players such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney+ Hotstar, Zee5 and the recent entrant Reliance-backed JioCinema.
A report estimates the homegrown OTT market to soar to a market size of $12.5 Bn by 2030.