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Transparency in OTT regulation

  • Published
    27th Feb, 2023

A survey of OTT regulation in different countries suggests that most of them are yet to come up with a clear statute-backed framework.


Key findings:

  • For India:
    • The survey highlighted that India’s OTT regulations policy needs clarification and a more transparent framework.
    • There is no specific body, to scrutinise the misdeeds and loopholes in policy.
  • In other Countries like Singapore, the Infocomm Media Development Authority is the common regulator for different media.
    • Aside from instituting a statutory framework and promoting industry self-regulation, its approach to media regulation emphasises promoting media literacy through public education.

What are OTT platforms?

  • The acronym OTT stands for Over-the-Top. This convenient term explains the new delivery method of film and TV content over the internet whenever we want, across many different devices, without the need for traditional broadcast, cable or satellite pay-TV providers.
  • In simple terms, OTT streaming means paying an internet provider, like Xfinity, for internet access to watch Netflix, without paying for cable TV.

India’s OTT regulations:

  • In India, the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021, through which the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (I&B) was given the task of regulating content on OTT and online platforms.
  • India’s approach can be termed as a light-touch ‘co-regulation’ model where there is ‘self-regulation’ at the industry level and the final ‘oversight mechanism’ at the Ministry level.

The Rules mandate access control mechanisms, including parental locks, for content classified as U/A 13+ or higher and a reliable age verification mechanism for programmes classified as ‘A’ (18+).

What are IT Rules, 2021?

  • The Rules aim to empower ordinary users of social media and OTT platforms with a mechanism for redressal and timely resolution of their grievances with the help of a Grievance Redressal Officer (GRO) who should be a resident in India.
  • Safety measures: Special emphasis has been given to the protection of women and children from sexual offences, fake news and another misuse of social media.
  • Source identification: Identification of the “first originator of the information” would be required in case of an offence related to the sovereignty and integrity of India.
  • Appointment of Chief Compliance Officer: A Chief Compliance Officer, a resident of India, also needs to be appointed and that person shall be responsible for ensuring compliance with the Act and Rules.
  • Complaint monitoring: A monthly compliance report mentioning the details of complaints received and action taken on the complaints would be necessary.
  • Code of Ethics: The OTT platforms, online news and digital media entities, on the other hand, would need to follow a Code of Ethics.
  • Self-classification: OTT platforms would be called ‘publishers of online curated content’ under the new rules.
  • They would have to self-classify the content into five categories based on age and use parental locks for ages above 13 or higher. They also need to include age verification mechanisms for content classified as ‘Adult’.
  • Redressal mechanism: A three-level grievance redressal mechanism has been mandated. This includes the appointment of a GRO, self-regulatory bodies registered with the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (MIB) to look after the Code of Ethics and a Charter for the self-regulating bodies formulated by the MIB.

Challenges in existing policy:

  • The Rules require disclosure of grievance details by publishers and self-regulating bodies, the reporting formats only capture the number of complaints received and decided.
    • Instead, the full description of complaints received by OTT providers and self-regulatory bodies and decisions given thereon may be published in the public domain.
  • OTT providers and appellate/self-regulatory bodies should be made to upload the details of grievances and redressal decisions, which will be visible to the public and government authorities.
  • The current Rules provide for the third/final tier as the Inter-Departmental Committee (IDC) comprising officer-nominees from various ministries of Central government, and domain experts.
  • There is no provision for the disclosure or publication of an apology/warning/censure on the platform or website.
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