Despite court stay, OTT platforms face pressure on content

The government is considering tightening rules for streaming platforms, though user complaints via established channels remain low, and two High Courts have stayed certain provisions in the IT Rules, 2021

April 26, 2023 06:08 pm | Updated May 05, 2023 11:44 am IST - NEW DELHI

A child touches a TV screen displaying OTT streaming apps at his home in New Delhi. File

A child touches a TV screen displaying OTT streaming apps at his home in New Delhi. File | Photo Credit: AP

OTT (over-the-top) streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video are facing pressure to comply with the Information Technology Rules, 2021, and exercise further restraint in streaming mature content. This is despite the fact that two High Courts have stayed provisions of the IT Rules that require them to appoint a grievance officer and take down content when ordered to do so by a self-regulatory body.

The Ministry of Information & Broadcasting has issued two advisories on the issue. The first told streaming platforms in February 2022 to ensure that a grievance officer’s details are made publicly available on their websites; the second, issued on March 24 this year, warned streaming platforms to exercise “abundant precaution in ensuring that films and web-series... do not fall [a]foul of the... Code of Ethics” laid out in the IT Rules.

Code stayed

“Given that the Code of Ethics under Rule 9(1) of the IT Rules, 2021 has been stayed by the Bombay and Madras High Courts, OTT Platforms are not presently bound by the terms thereof,” the Internet Freedom Foundation said, in a statement to The Hindu.

Beyond the government advisories, a self-regulatory body that includes Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and ALTBalaji as members, issued its own internal advisory to streaming firms. The fact that some sites do not have grievance officers or monthly reports of grievances posted on their website does “not appear to be in strict conformity with the law,” Justice (Retd.) A.K. Sikri, chairperson of the Digital Publisher Content Grievances Council (DPCGC)’s Grievance Redressal Board, said in an advisory to streaming platforms on April 10.

‘Respect Indian sensibilities’

I&B Minister Anurag Thakur recently warned streaming services, which have largely stopped releasing mainstream series and shows with politically or religiously sensitive themes, that they should not make content that offends Indian cultural sensibilities. The Ministry did not respond to The Hindu’s queries on the legal aspects of its advisories to streaming platforms following the High Court stays.

As recently as Wednesday, Mr. Thakur said at an event, “There are multiple complaints about the kind of content that should not be on TV, that is shown on OTT.” He added that the Ministry would take up the issue with streaming services in the coming week, and illustrate which particular series or films are encouraging the government to involve itself further in the streaming regulations.

Minimal complaints

The DPCGC, one of the self-regulating bodies for streaming services, received zero appeals on content complaints in February and March, and just one complaint each in the two months before that, according to disclosures on their website.

Streaming services have age ratings and content descriptors for films and series on their sites, but Mr. Thakur complained at the event that content was not fit for consumption in a family setting. “We cannot accept obscenity in the name of creativity, that much is clear,” Mr. Thakur said.

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