Self-regulation is in demand, nowadays. After leading media companies, on the recommendation from I&B ministry, recently formed a Digital News Publishers Association (DNPA) as part of self-regulatory measures, the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) has now officially announced the self-regulation of video streaming apps which include Hotstar, Voot, Zee5, Arre, SonyLIV, ALT Balaji, Netflix and Eros Now.
The leading video streaming players have “voluntarily” signed a self-regulatory Code of Best Practices under the aegis of IAMAI. The organisation said that the code has been in the works for over a year and establishes guiding principles for Online Curated Content (OCC) providers to conduct themselves in a responsible and transparent manner. It also aims to ensure that consumer interests are protected.
The industry has been rife with speculations about self-censorship of the online video streaming players since September 2018 when in a meeting, top players in the video-on-demand (VOD) industry discussed the possibility of self-censorship code and what it would look like.
The self-censorship code stops online video platforms from showing content that’s banned by Indian courts, disrespects the national emblem and flag, outrages religious sentiments, promotes terrorism or violence against the state and shows children in sexual acts.
At the time, some of the top concerns of these VOD companies were about regulatory uncertainty, unpredictable censorship and court rulings that could impact their long-term business potential in India.
Recently, media reports had suggested that except for Google, Facebook and Amazon Prime Video, most video streaming players have agreed to self-censorship. The players had been discussing grievance redressal mechanism, as the code says that this mechanism is the responsibility of a one-tier body: a “Content Compliance Department” with a “Content Compliance Officer” within the company.
In a media statement, IAMAI has now listed down the objectives of the Code:
- Empower consumers to make informed choices on age-appropriate content
- Protect the interests of consumers in choosing and accessing the content they want to watch, at their own time and convenience
- Safeguard and respect creative freedom of content creators and artists
- Nurture creativity, create an ecosystem fostering innovation and abide by an individual’s freedom of speech and expression
- Provide a mechanism for complaints redressal in relation to content made available by respective OCCPs
The organisation said that Online Curated Content Providers who are signatories to this Code, inter-alia seek to uphold the freedom as envisaged in the Constitution of India (including under Article 19(1)(a) and Article 19(1)(g)).
The companies are looking to protect consumer interest while offering them a variety of content choices and exercising creative freedom.
Ashok Nambissan, general counsel, Sony Pictures Networks India Private Limited said, “Self-regulation encourages creativity and makes content creators more responsive to their viewers. It’s worked well for broadcast media and there’s no reason for it not to do so for curated video content.”
Also, the code represents uniform principles and guidelines which will be adhered to by all signatories to the Code, in letter and spirit.
IAMAI along with the signatory companies are still open to collaborating with other players, under the principles in the Code. Interestingly, Amazon has already backed out from the discussions of the code, as it felt that its subscribers might express outrage if the former adopts an industry censorship code and makes any alterations in movies and shows that the subscribers have paid to watch.
Kshipra Jatana, Group general counsel at Network18 Media and Investments, said, “This endeavour is a significant step forward in striking the right balance between defending creating freedom and protecting consumer interests.”
The self-censorship in the name self-regulation has always been a huge issue in India. While some of the content amid heavy criticism from certain class may never see day of the light, some of the OTT players might go away despite showing ‘banned’ content like many news channels have done in the past.
The self-regulation buzz caught after the critically-acclaimed Netflix original Secred Games became a huge hit. While the efficacy of the self-regulation remains questionable, undoubtedly, the step might curb the artistic freedom as well.
What do you think?