EXCLUSIVE | Anupama Mandloi on new govt rules for OTT platforms: A quagmire of control?

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Anupama Mandloi, Content creation expert and Producer – A Boy & A Dog Productions, is a highly regarded television professional with an overall perspective on content creation and business. Her first tryst with content as Feature Director began with Plus Channel in 1993.  Her career has spanned 15 years of programming content in the broadcasting space with channels such as Sony Entertainment Television, Sab TV and Star Plus. She later helmed Fremantle India, a television production company, for 6 years.

Anupama currently works as an independent consultant on scripts and creative for content platforms. She has made her debut as an Independent Producer under her banner A Boy and A Dog Productions with her award-winning documentary Aunty Sudha Aunty Radha.  She is the Impact Producer for an award winning documentary Coral Woman, and working to build awareness and educational impact for marine-life conservation.

Writing exclusively for MediaBrief, Anupama looks at the new government rules for OTT self-regulation and wonders if putting OTT platforms under the same ambit as social media apps is akin to comparing apples and oranges, and says that ‘in the current climate of fear,  our potential golden period of content may just end in a whimper’.

In the past few years we have seen a growing influx of fake news, defamatory content and thought manipulation. Social media has ensured a growing divide amongst users and an increased polarity of opinion. Trolls thrive on these platforms and live to react. To rage. To vent.

They threaten rape. They abuse. Vilify. Shame. Get away with everything short of murder.

So it was a matter of time that social media would come under the ambit of some sort of regulation since they failed miserably in exercising the established guidelines for online conduct.

Should OTT platforms come under the same ambit as social media apps? Are the two equal? Are we making the mistake of comparing apples with oranges?

Social media is governed by user-generated content.

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OTT content is governed by the content teams who self-regulate or are meant to do so. Television channels come under broad content guidelines that are then implemented by the S&P teams within the companies’ based-on-MIB protocols.

The nature of content is largely defined by the audience it caters to. Television channels cater to the largest common denominator and hence their content is built to appeal to the widest spectrum of people to garner maximum viewership.

The success of any OTT platform is dependent on it attracting long-term subscribers. The more variety in content, the more the subscribers. It allows a diverse landscape of content to co-exist, and holds an appeal for a variety of segments.

OTT platforms have enjoyed absolute freedom without any universally established guidelines. As a result, we now have an alarming three-tier redressal system which undermines the concept of self regulation. Has the government done justice to the content creators or to diversity of opinion and thought while formulating these regulations?

Will a multi-tiered redressal system, fairly and without prejudice, decide the level of aggravation, offence and threat that a particular piece of content supposedly exhibits? Will the third tier resting solely with MIB and ‘empowered to delete or modify content for preventing incitement to the commission of a cognisable offence relating to public order’ [Rule 14(5)] complicate and negate the first two self regulatory tiers?

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These new regulations have emerged courtesy the multitudes of PILs filed by offended citizens. Subjectivity, as we all know, is a whole other ball game. Two viewers watch the same show. One hates it. One loves it. One shoots off PIL after PIL, while another feels the same content qualifies for an award. Now who will decide if this show should stay or go? More importantly, who will decide the reason for a takedown or punitive measures? Shouldn’t there also be a system that penalises these litigators if found to be frivolous, alarmist or just vengeful?

Regulations cannot be a one-way street. These litigations cost the judiciary system as well as the platforms a good deal of time and money. There has to be some discernment in what can be filed as an offence.

The executives who occupy senior positions determining content selection are often in the unenviable position of being at the receiving end of brickbats or non-bailable warrants. They enjoy the bouquets too, but all said and done, the job is fraught with censure. The business of content, unlike other businesses, is out there for judgement by all and sundry. Anyone can have an opinion on it. Time and again, we learn that you can’t please all people all the time. There will always be something that offends someone’s sensibility. Especially in times where polarised opinions are up for grabs.

Art, by its very nature, is meant to build bridges and conversations. Restricting or killing content that does not fit into a safe box is a sure-shot way of restricting our world view and preventing us from understanding and accepting diversity of thought, culture and character.

At present, we find ourselves in a quagmire of control. In this current climate of fear, our potential golden period of content may just end in a whimper. The opportunity for India to make its presence felt on a global stage may remain a distant dream for a while longer. Unless, content creators, publishers, distributors come together and fight for sovereignty of their content. Unless companies ensure a safe space for programming teams to create content fearlessly. Unless we all take a step back and think about what we really want freedom to look like.