Disney Plus Hotstar, Amazon Prime Video and Netflix are among 17 operators in India which have adopted an ‘implementation tool kit’ intended to enhance a video streaming industry self-regulation code that they signed last year. In doing so they hope to head off further intervention from the federal government.
Other signatories of the ‘Universal Self-Regulation Code for OCCPs (Online Curated Content Providers),’ created by the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) include ZEE5, Viacom 18’s Voot, SonyLiv, MX Player, Jio Cinema, Eros Now, ALTBalaji, Arre, HoiChoi, Hungama, Shemaroo, Discovery Plus, Aha and Lionsgate Play.
However, India’s Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, under whose purview the streaming sector falls, refused to ratify the code, which was signed by the streamers in Sept. 2020. The ministry said that the self-regulatory code failed to list prohibited content, and that its advisory panel consisted of OCCP members rather than an independent body.
The implementation tool kit addresses both these concerns. Advisory panels will now have independent members alongside internal members. And, the tool kit has a comprehensive list of prohibited content under various various acts of government and the Indian Penal Code, 1860. Among these are Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code that prohibits: “Deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs.”
India is ruled by a Hindu nationalist government and religion is a hot button topic. In recent months, Netflix/BBC series “A Suitable Boy” attracted Hindu ire because of a scene where a Muslim boy kissed a Hindu girl against the backdrop of a Hindu temple. In the case of Amazon original series “Tandav,” the streamer was forced to cut a portion of one scene portraying the Hindu God Shiva, played by a Muslim actor in a series created by a Muslim, after widespread complaints from members of the ruling dispensation.
The adoption of the tool kit may be too little, too late. On Tuesday, in response to a question in parliament, Information & Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar revealed that the Ministry has received lots of suggestions and complaints about streamers, and said that government guidelines and directions are almost ready to be published. It remains to be seen if the government guidelines remain advisory and support the self-regulation code, or override the industry’s attempt at self governance and become law.
“This tool kit amplifies all the critical points that were addressed in the code signed last year and aims to address feedback received from the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, particularly on strengthening the grievance redressal mechanism,” said Amit Goenka, chair of the digital entertainment committee at IAMAI. “It further sets out clear tentpoles that the OCCPs need to undertake to achieve a common goal of entertaining millions of Indians responsibly.”
He commended the tool kit for: “further strengthen(ing) our commitment to augment consumer empowerment and creative excellence for the Indian entertainment industry to grow multifold.”