The Indian Media and Entertainment industry is a rising sector for the Indian economy and is making significant strides. Proving its resilience to the world, the Indian Media and Entertainment industry has always been on the verge of a strong phase of growth, backed by rising consumer demand and improving advertising revenue. The industry has largely been driven by increasing digitization and soaring internet usage over the last decade. The Internet has become a mainstream medium for entertainment for many people.
The year 2019 had been a disruptive year for the Indian film industry. As content took centre stage, many films of varied budgets witnessed success at the box office. However, the year 2020 was totally a different story.
The outbreak of COVID-19 in December 2019 has left the worldwide economy in a very state of chaos. While the true impact of COVID-19 wasn't experienced in India until early March, the country knew it had been a matter of ‘when,’ and not ‘if’. By March 15, 2020, we saw the Central and State Governments were introducing various policies to limit social interaction, ordering shut down of establishments, and taking precautionary measures to implement ‘social distancing’. The limitation on movement and fear of contracting COVID-19 steered an outsized number of individuals far away from cinema halls and into their homes, impacting the movie business within India and around the world.
Several States in India invoked the 123-year-old legislation known as The Epidemic Diseases Act,1897 (Act) to combat the spread of COVID-19. Under the legislation, the State has far-reaching powers to take any decision that they deem fit to curb and manage the spread of disease within its jurisdiction. “The Act also makes any advisory that has been issued by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare enforceable as Orders.” India had by that time approximately recorded 415 confirmed cases by time and States were implementing a practical lockdown to effectively contain the outbreak, as for example, the govt of Maharashtra on March 20, 2020, issued a shutdown of everything except essential services, like pharmacies, grocery shops, and transportation providers. The closure is extensive and includes all cinema halls, restaurants, amusement parks, etc. Further, the Office of the Commissioner of Labour, Government of Maharashtra has also issued an advisory on March 20, 2020, to advise all employers be it public or private to not terminate contractual or casual workers or daily wage earners from jobs or reduce their wages. it's also advised that within the event that a worker takes a leave, he/she should be deemed to possess been on duty with no consequential deduction in wages. because the COVID-19 spread becomes an actual threat in India, these are necessary advisories as an outsized amount of the Indian population is engaged in casual jobs and protection must be provided to the weaker sections of the society.
The situations created by the coronavirus led to the boom in the over-the-top platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney Hotstar, Zee5, etc. Over-the-top (OTT) platform providers had a golden net protecting them from potential losses as quarantine and isolation measures as most of the people were advised to remain indoors. have led most of the people to remain indoors. OTT platforms are expected to ascertain higher daily usage by subscribers and a potential increase in subscriptions. However, with no new content being generated within the time being, time will tell how they keep monthly subscribers as there could also be a bent to leap from one platform to a different one. Interestingly, creative because the industry is, it's been reported that the Indian movie Producers’ Association has witnessed film producers rushing in to register Covid-19-based film titles, with a recently registered title being Corona Pyaar Hai. an identical trend was seen after the 2009 flu pandemic, which saw iconic movies like Contagion being supported its impact and spread.
While several industries have implemented measures to combat the economic impact of COVID-19, it remains to ascertain how industries where a work-from-home module isn't possible, like the show business, get over the impact of the pandemic. Additionally, to immediate economic loss, stakeholders will need to also consider that even after COVID-19 has been successfully contained, the revival of economic activity is going to be gradual and not immediate as people should fear an opportunity of spread, especially in closed air-conditioned areas like cinema halls or malls.
Due to the large number of users of the OTT platforms, the government has brought video streaming over-the-top (OTT) platforms such as Netflix, Amazon’s Prime Video, Disney Hotstar, and others under the ambit of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. These platforms were so far under the purview of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology.
So far in India, there were no such rules or regulations specifically for the OTT platforms because it was relatively a new medium of entertainment. Unlike television, print, or radio, which follow guidelines released by governments, OTT platforms, classified as digital media or social media, had little to no regulation on the selection of content that they offered, the subscription rates, certification for adult movies, and others items.
In India, the regulation of such platforms has been widely debated and deliberated. Following the pressure to manage the content being made available on these streaming platforms, the web and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), a representative body of the OTT platforms had proposed a self-regulatory model.
The Online Curated Content Providers or OCCPs had also proposed a Digital Curated Content Complaints Council alongside the self-regulatory mechanism as a neighbourhood of its proposed two-tier structure. The proposal, however, was shot down by the Ministry of data and Broadcasting, which can now oversee these platforms.
But, the increased consumption of content by the Indian audience resulted in an enormous growth in the number of OTT Platforms launched in India, catering to the diverse sensibilities of the Indian audience. However, this resulted in various controversies, with several shows, both Indian and foreign, being dragged into courts accusing them for defamation, obscenity, hurting the religious sentiments and many more. In this background, the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting notified the Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021 (Rules).
Salient features of the Digital Media Ethics Code Relating to Digital Media and OTT Platforms:
Notified under section 87 of the Information Technology Act, these Rules empower the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to implement Part-III of the Rules which prescribe the following:
The code of ethics has been prescribed by the ministry by issuing the rules to be followed by the OTT platforms, online news portals, and digital media entities, this may act as a base for fixing the principles and regulations.
The OTT platforms, called because the publishers of online curated content within the rules, would self-classify the content into five age-based categories- U (Universal), U/A 7+, U/A 13+, U/A 16+, and A (Adult). Platforms would be required to implement parental locks for content classified as U/A 13+ or higher, and reliable age verification mechanisms for content classified as “A”. The publisher of online curated content shall prominently display the classification rating specific to every content or program alongside a content descriptor informing the user about the character of the content, and advising on viewer description (if applicable) at the start of each program enabling the user to form an informed decision, before watching the program.
The ministry has found out a grievance redressal mechanism categorized under three levels.
Level I deals with self-regulation by the publishers.
Level II deals with the self-regulation by the self-regulating bodies of the publishers.
Level III deals with the oversight mechanism.
There are widespread concerns about issues concerning digital content both on digital media and OTT platforms. Civil Society, filmmakers, political leaders including Chief Minister, trade organizations, and associations have all voiced their concerns and highlighted the imperative need for an appropriate institutional mechanism. the govt also received many complaints from civil society and fogeys requesting interventions. there have been many court proceedings within the Supreme Court and High Courts, where courts also urged the govt to require suitable measures. Since the matter relates to digital platforms, therefore, a conscious decision was taken that issues concerning digital media and OTT and other creative programs on the Internet shall be administered by the Ministry of data and Broadcasting but the general architecture shall be under the knowledge Technology Act, which governs digital platforms.
This paradigm shift within the OTT platforms industry with no laws to the entire rules and regulations is seen as a positive step in accordance with the protection of our rights. within the words of the knowledge and Broadcasting Minister Hon’ble Shankar Prasad, “The soft tone notwithstanding, these rules force digital news publishers and video streaming services to stick to a burdensome three-tier structure of regulation, with a government committee at its apex. This, in itself, is unprecedented during a country where the journalism are given the space right along to self-regulate, supported the mature understanding that any government presence could have a chilling effect on free speech and conversations.”
Balancing the need for regulation to stay out deleterious online content that promotes violence and vulgarity with the need to preserve our constitutional values and freedom of expression is at the core of the new rules which are formulated by the Union government.
The policy has tried hard to form the much-needed level-playing field between online news platforms and medium on the one hand and online and tv journalism on the other. it's also tried to bring online news portals within the ambit of the code of ethics that governs medium. These include the norms of journalistic conduct involved by the Press Council Act and thus the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Rules, 1994. This was long overdue thanks to the recklessness and irresponsibility that's on display on a variety of those platforms.
Similarly, while the cinema industry features a film certification agency with oversight responsibilities of regulating the content, OTT platforms had none. However, so on confirm artistic freedom, the govt has proposed self-regulation. they need to get right down to roll in the hay. The grievance redressal mechanism thought of is three-tier, with the publishers and self-regulating bodies being the first two. The third tier is that the central government oversight committee. The policy proposed by the government requires publishers to appoint grievance redressal mechanisms and officers to ensure a time-bound acknowledgment and disposal of grievances. Then, there is often a self-regulating body headed by a retired judge.
These new IT rules will make sure that the social media platforms keep better checks and balances over their content. And ensure their adherence to the rule of law. The new IT rules enhance government regulation over social and digital media platforms. This step will enhance their accountability and proper mechanism to regulate the platforms.
The new IT rules will ensure and cause the empowerment of citizens. Since there will be a mechanism for redressal and timely resolution of their grievances. Dissemination of fake news and wrongful information will be scrutinized. In case there will be any disinformation of knowledge immediate actions could be taken. Giving due notice before removal of the content will prevent arbitrary removal of content. The imposition of print and electronic code of conduct on digital journalism would ensure A level playing field for each media. It will strengthen India’s position as a pacesetter in digital policy and technological innovation. for instance, China, with its larger digital population, has not been ready to provide a good and open local marketplace for global companies within the digital space thanks to the absence of proper IT Rules and Regulations.
The rules released by the government requires a proper and detailed consultation by the appropriate stakeholders for the proper implementation. This will provide more inclusivity and acceptability of the new IT rules by the people. More focus should be drawn on strengthening citizen’s rights by learning from successful global examples like OFCOM (OFCOM is a communication regulator in the UK). The government must have a mindset of flexibility and agility to support the principles adequately and ensure its proper governance.
OTT platforms while regulating the content should strike a balance between the various Indian society and therefore the beliefs of viewers in India. This will ensure credibility and acceptance. The enactment of the latest IT rules in 2021 may be a watershed moment that will transform the digital information ecology in India. A fine balance between freedom of speech and the need to curb the misuse in digital platforms has to be maintained for the better achievement of the goals. Both the government and the digital platforms will need to work together and fulfil this responsibility.
1st year, BBA LLB
Indore Institute of Law