OTT platforms mandated to show anti-tobacco warnings

“The streaming industry was not consulted before the notification,” an executive said in response to the government’s notification on World No Tobacco Day

May 31, 2023 12:26 pm | Updated June 01, 2023 02:10 pm IST - NEW DELHI

An executive said that OTT platforms would collectively reach out to the government to articulate their view that static smoking warnings on small screens for content that is explicitly being requested by users may not be appropriate

An executive said that OTT platforms would collectively reach out to the government to articulate their view that static smoking warnings on small screens for content that is explicitly being requested by users may not be appropriate | Photo Credit: AP

It’s now mandatory for over-the-top (OTT) streaming platforms to display anti-tobacco warnings as seen in movies screened in theatres and TV, as per a Union Health Ministry notification on May 31 amending the rules under the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act, 2004.

OTT platforms like Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, Hotstar and ZEE5 did not respond to The Hindu’s request for comment, but an industry executive said that the companies would collectively reach out to the government to articulate their view that static smoking warnings on small screens for content that is explicitly being requested by users may not be appropriate.

“The streaming industry was not consulted before the notification,” the executive said.

Prominent health warnings

Meanwhile, as per the notification, released on World No Tobacco Day, publishers of online curated content displaying tobacco products, or their use will be required to display anti-tobacco health spots at the beginning and middle of the programme.

They shall also be required to exhibit an anti-tobacco health warning as a prominent static message at the bottom of the screen when tobacco products or their use are displayed during the programme.

It added that the anti-tobacco health warning message as specified in clause(b) of sub-rule (1) shall be legible and readable, with font in black colour on white background and with the warnings ‘Tobacco causes cancer’ or ‘Tobacco kills’.

Besides the anti-tobacco health warning messages, health spots and audio-visual disclaimers will have to be in the same language as used in the show or film.

“The display of tobacco products or their use in online curated content shall not extend to the display of the brands of cigarettes or other tobacco products or any form of tobacco product placement and display of tobacco products or their use in promotional materials.

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“Additionally, if the publisher of online curated content fails to comply with the provisions of sub-rules (1) to (5), an inter-ministerial committee consisting of representatives from the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, shall take action suo motu or on a complaint, and after identifying the publisher of online curated content, issue notice giving reasonable opportunity to explain such failure and make appropriate modification in the content,” the notification said.

The expression “online curated content” means any curated catalogue of audio-visual content, other than news and current affairs content, which is owned by, licensed to, or contracted to be transmitted by a publisher of online curated content, and made available on demand, including but not limited through subscription, over the internet or computer networks, and includes films, audiovisual programmes, television programmes, serials, series and other such content. This is the same definition used in the IT Rules, 2021, which allow the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting to administer online series and films.

According to a study, “The Effectiveness of Tobacco Disclaimers on OTT Content Services — A Behavioural Appraisal”, released on Tuesday by Koan advisory group, which works in the area of public policy consultancy: “Our results suggest that adding a disclaimer on top of the current content descriptors and age-ratings is unlikely to fulfil the policy objectives. It may be more effective to ensure a better-standardised industry response to the provisions of the IT Rules, 2021. This is especially important as the younger cohorts are more likely to watch content on OTT services online.’’

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