On Friday (May 10), the Supreme Court of India directed the Centre to regulate the content featured on over-the-top (OTT) media platforms. The three-judge bench of the Supreme Court issued a notice under the petition calling for regulation of content on online video streaming platforms such as Netflix and Amazon Prime.
Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and Justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna were hearing the public interest litigation (PIL) filed by the NGO, Justice for Rights, represented by advocate Harpreet Singh Hora.
The plea filed by the NGO in the Supreme Court has said that these OTT platforms are not only displaying unlicensed, unregulated and uncertified content, but also running without being governed by any guidelines.
The petitioners have claimed that due to lack or absence of any guidelines to govern the online platforms, government agencies are creating a special class of broadcasters and discriminating against customers, cable TV producers and D2H operators.
Notably, the case was dismissed by the Delhi High Court last February. The Delhi HC bench of Chief Justice Rajendra Menon and Justice V Kameswar Rao had been informed by the Central Government that the online platforms were neither required to obtain a license from the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, nor was its content regulated by it.
The Ministry of Law and Justice had also stated that the matter was outside its domain. While dismissing the plea, the High Court had observed that since the law did not require such platforms to acquire a licence, it cannot direct them to get one. Instead, the High Court had suggested that the petitioner pursues the FIR route.
Self Regulation Not Enough For OTT?
In January 2019, the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) 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 had “voluntarily” signed a self-regulatory Code of Best Practices under the aegis of IAMAI. 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.
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.
The notice to the Centre comes in the light of reports that India’s telecom regulator TRAI is working on the draft regulatory framework for over-the-top (OTT) services operating in India, which is expected to be finalised by May-end.
Poised to be a market worth $5 Bn by 2023, how does the regulation spin out for the players such as Amazon Prime, Netflix and Hotstar who have their skin in the game remains to be seen.