The government of India has set a new “classification rating” to describe content and advise discretion for viewers of films and other entertainment sources including TV shows that are streamed on OTT platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney+ Hotstar, and more. According to the new Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, the Adult category will be suitable only for 18 year old’s and above. This comes during a time when OTT platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime have faced criticisms and complaints in India for allegedly showing “obscene content.”
The new rules, according to the government, establish a soft touch progressive institutional mechanism with a level playing field that features a Code of Ethics and a three-tier grievance redressal framework for news publishers and OTT platforms on digital mefia. The OTT platforms are supposed to self-classify the content into five categories – U (universal), U/A 7+, U/A 13+, U/A 16+, and A (adult). Platforms would also be required to implement parental locks for content classified as U/A 13+ or higher, and reliable age verification mechanisms for content classified as ‘A’. Publishers of news on digital media would be required to implement Norms of Journalistic Conduct of the Press Council of India and the Programme Code under the Cable Television Networks Regulation Act, thereby providing a level playing field between the offline (Print/ TV) and digital media.
There is also a three-level grievance redressal mechanism that has been established under the rules with two levels of self regulation. Level 1 being the publisher themselves, and level 2 being the Self Regulatory Body, and level 3 being the OVersight Mechanism that falls under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. The rules provide an effective grievance redressal mechanism for receiving, processing, and time-bound disposal of public grievances related to the Code of Ethics. The self regulatory body would be headed by a retired judge of the Supreme Court of India or of a High Court, or by a person of eminence from the relevant field, and can issue advisories to the publisher.
The mechanism is based on the principles of minimum Government intervention; however platforms should develop a robust grievance redressal mechanism on their own.
According to the government, the institutional mechanism would encourage growth in the Champion Audio-Visual Services Sector, empower citizens to make informed choices about content, and get their grievances redressed in definite time frames, and protect children. it will also help fight fake news on digital media through a mechanism of accountability of the publishers.