The IAMAI code for online content has divided content platforms down the middle: there are big names among the signatories - and in the list of those who have refused to sign.
On July 6, 2018, Netflix made its first India Original show, 'Sacred Games', available for streamers across 190 countries. Based on Vikram Chandra's novel, the eight-episode thriller refers to political figures, court judgements and historical moments interpreting them in their own way. The interpretations irked many and FIRs were filed followed by court hearings.
On October 7, 2018, The Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court, on hearing another Public Interest Litigation Public Interest Litigation (PIL), issued notices to I&B Ministry, Union Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, Ministry of Law and Justice, Ministry of Home Affairs, and the Nagpur police commissioner. The PIL from Divya Ganeshprasad Gontia was against the usage of "nudity and obscenity" in web series like 'Gandi Baat' which is streaming on ALTBalaji and 'Sacred Games' of Netflix.
The FIRs, PILs and court hearings were too frequent to stay unnoticed and regulation looked like a matter of time. Earlier this month Internet & Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) an industry body registered under the Societies Act, 1986 released its "Code of best practices for Online Curated Content Providers." The code promotes self-regulation, "This document establishes guiding principles for Online Curated Content Providers [hereinafter referred to as 'OCC Providers'] to conduct themselves in a responsible and transparent manner. This shall be achieved by adhering to industry best practices as laid out in this Code," says the preamble of the code.
IAMAI reached out to "stakeholders" for comments/inputs and on the basis of which the code was prepared. "It took us more than a year to finalise this," says Chitrita Chatterjee, associate vice president, IAMAI. Its signatories include Zee5, ALTBalaji, Viacom18, Arre, Sony Pictures Networks India, Eros Now, Netflix, Hotstar, and Jio Digital.
Recently acquired by Times Internet - MX Player, Amazon Prime Video, Viu, Facebook, and YouTube are notable names missing from the list of signatories. "The document is a 'Code of best practices for Online Curated Content Providers' (OCCPs) and UGC (user generated content) platforms are not signatories to this code," Chatterjee explains.
It is worth mentioning here that YouTube, under its subscription video on demand vertical, YouTube Premium, creates Originals. In India, it commissioned 'ARRived' and promoted it as a YouTube Original.
Currently, in the Indian broadcast ecosystem, there exists the BCCC (Broadcasting Content Complaints Council), the independent self-regulatory body for non-news general entertainment channels set up by the Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) for registration of complaints against programmes aired on TV channels. There's also the ASCI (The Advertising Standards Council of India), a self-regulatory industry body accepting complaints against misleading ads. The News Broadcasters Standards Authorisation (NBSA) administers the Codes of Ethics & Broadcasting Standards. It has been voluntarily drawn by the News Broadcasters Association (NBA) for its member broadcasters to demonstrate their commitment to responsible broadcasting and to self-regulate themselves.
IAMAI intends to establish itself as that self-regulatory industry body for the digital content space. Self-regulation, as a mechanism, has been questioned many times before, be it the spat between Republic TV and NBA or ASCI and FMCG giants Patanjali.
Sudhanshu Vats, MD and Group CEO, Viacom18, shares his opinion, "Overall, the concept of self-regulation is functional and it is reasonably healthy. Now, does that mean no one will flout or challenge it? No. In general, I believe it is a better way of management and there is enough evidence to suggest that it has worked to a very large extent."
Vats believes that digital will see a lot of experimentation and a wide variety of genres will be explored as there are different segments of viewers.
"We need to do content which is relevant to the country and contextual to its culture; therefore, having some amount of self-regulation is a good idea. We need to have a clear indication on what the kind of content is so that the viewer is aware of the nature of the content he or she is about to watch," he adds.
The prohibitory content as per IAMAI's code are:
The signatories to this Code will ensure that they do not deliberately and maliciously make available the following categories of content through their services to users:
- Content which deliberately and maliciously disrespects the national emblem or national flag;
- Content which represents a child engaged in real or simulated sexual activities or any representation of the sexual parts of a child for primarily sexual purposes;
- Content which deliberately and maliciously intends to outrage religious sentiments of any class, section or community;
- Content which deliberately and maliciously promotes or encourages terrorism and other forms of violence against the State (of India) or its institutions; and
- Content that has been banned for exhibition or distribution by online video services under applicable laws or by any court with competent jurisdiction.
"There is no ambiguity...," says Ali Hussein, COO, Eros Digital. "'Deliberately and maliciously' are words which are well established and clearly understood in legal context. In fact, these words have been used in the 'Code of Best Practices' based on its inclusion of various statutes, including in Section 295-A of the Indian Penal Code which clearly implies that not all acts or actions constitute an offence unless there is an aggravated form of deliberate and malicious action or attempt, which is intentional and not merely careless or unwitting action," Hussein adds.
He is upbeat about the 'Code' of best practices and sees it as an enabler which will go a long way. "Code of Best Practices for self-regulation adopted by Eros Now and other OTT platforms is essentially an industry initiative which is intended to remove disparities in addressing consumer grievances and build a unified approach to such content issues," asserts Hussein.
As per the Boston Consulting Group's report titled "Entertainment Goes Online", released in 2018, video content delivered through the internet is expected to reach a market size of Rs 35,730 crore by 2023. "The size of the industry and the kind of reach it witnesses, need to have the maturity of having self-regulation. You need an industry body that sets a norm and guides the players in it; we have seen that with BCCC in TV and ASCI in advertising," says Uday Sodhi, business head - digital business, Sony Pictures Networks India.
"It enables the consumer to say there is a problem with a piece of content streaming on a platform and then a nodal officer or a compliance officer would ensure the query is answered," he adds.
As it stands now, there is a Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) which primarily certifies films for theatrical release in accordance with the provisions of [the] Cinematograph Act, 1952 and Cinematograph Certification Rules, 1983. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has no control over films appearing online.
The moment an OCCP signs the IAMAI Code, it agrees to abide by the norms mentioned. Uday Sodhi believes that this code is not going to force anyone to change their approach towards content, it remains to be seen what happens when a curse-filled, explicit show like 'Sacred Games' or 'Gandi Baat' releases its sequels. For now, the signatories believe the IAMAI code could emerge as the BCCC, NBSA or ASCI.
Click here to read IAMAI's code for OCC providers.