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I&B Ministry meets OTT stakeholders to discuss regulation

"..norms, self-regulation or any other system of regulations on Online Curated Content that is devised should be implementable, widely acceptable and easily enforceable.”: I&B Ministry

, ET Bureau|
Updated: Oct 12, 2019, 10.12 AM IST
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PTI
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Union Minister Prakash Javadekar briefing the media at a conference
New Delhi: Within weeks of Union Minister Prakash Javadekar promising wide-ranging consultations to regulate online content, the I&B ministry on Friday held its first meeting with stakeholders related to certification of the same on streaming platforms, and which was attended by executives from 18 companies, including Netflix, Amazon Prime, Zee5 and Jio, among others.

Organised by the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT), a statutory body under the ministry, Bombay High Court judge Gautam Patel and BJP spokesperson and advocate Hitesh Jain were among the speakers invited by the ministry to speak at the meeting that was held in Mumbai. The two-day agenda, according to officials, is just one of the many consultations the ministry has planned for the next four weeks. The next consultation with more stakeholders has been planned in Chennai, ET has learnt.

At the meeting, I&B secretary Amit Khare said that “norms, self-regulation or any other system of regulations on Online Curated Content that is devised should be implementable, widely acceptable and easily enforceable.” Officials in the ministry said it was waiting for the industry to be united on this issue, before it plans any further move. Earlier this year, several OTT players joined hands to set up a self-regulato ry content code under the aegis of Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) but not everyone in the industry has agreed with it.

“As of now, we are collecting all possible views, legal, commercial and from the civil society too to see if a there needs
to be a norm, a law, or just a set of guidelines,” a senior official in the ministry said. Organisations affiliated to the RSS have also been exerting pressure on the ministry to take a decision. “Also, there are over 14 court cases for which the ministry has to keep appearing which is why this issue is a priority,” an official said.

Members of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) that is primarily responsible for certification of films in India, however was originally part of the meeting but kept away from it. At the workshop, Gautam Patel told the stakeholders any new regulation has to come only in the form of “advisories, not laws,” and that one needed to used reasoning and objectivity to decide on these matters. Certifying authorities should focus on the certification guidelines, without getting carried away by their personal biases, views and prejudices, the judge said, at the meeting. Another speaker, Hitesh Jain told ET his focal point in the meeting was that self regulation was not enough in the online space.

“There is no question of banning any content but there is no absolute freedom. If a member who has signed the self regulatory code violates, there should be a body that can address it. India is a diverse country and we need to prevent incidents before they happen.” Karan Bedi, CEO, MX Player, said that OTT platforms are only an additional medium for viewers to watch TV channels and that they are themselves already sufficiently regulated. “Any additional licensing framework is entirely unnecessary.”

Internet activists, however, have raised concerns over the participation of FCAT, a judicial body in these discussions, and the need for regulation in the online space.

Some experts also feel any kind of government intervention could kill the barely five-year-old OTT industry. Arre co-founder & CEO Ajay Chacko said it is very tricky to insist of regulating content for an industry "where quite often the content maker and the viewer are the same." "Let the industry grow first. One can come to these concerns later."

Apar Gupta, executive director, Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) said as far as business of allocation goes, the ministry of IT should be looking at online content regulation and "has in the Delhi high court already filed an affidavit stating that present legal provisions under the IT act and Indian Penal Code are sufficient."

Raman Chima, Asia Policy Director, Access Now told ET there have been many discussions in the past to extend Cinematograph Act to apply to online content but the proposal couldn't get through. "And, the purpose of FCAT is not to do this. It is to say that once a film is certified, nobody can refuse to run it."


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