Offensive content: OTT regulation lacks teeth, make new law, SC tells Centre

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Updated: March 06, 2021 7:40 AM

The apex court's remarks and direction came while granting protection from arrest to Amazon Prime Video's India head Aparna Purohit in the ongoing probe against the web series 'Tandav'

A perusal of the Rules indicate that the Rules are more and more in the form of guidelines.A perusal of the Rules indicate that the Rules are more and more in the form of guidelines.

The Supreme Court on Friday said that the new laws notified by the government to regulate content streamed by over-the-top players like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, etc, lacked clauses relating to pre-screening of the content as well as prosecuting the offenders. It, accordingly, asked the government to frame a new law with stronger and stricter provisions to regulate content on OTT platforms, and also submit a copy of the draft legislation for its consideration after two weeks.

The apex court’s remarks and direction came while granting protection from arrest to Amazon Prime Video’s India head Aparna Purohit in the ongoing probe against the web series ‘Tandav’.

“We have gone through your (the government’s) rules and it lacks any teeth. No power for prosecution… No mechanism to control violations. There is no mechanism to control social media platforms. Without legislation you cannot control it,” the apex court said while hearing Purohit’s appeal against the Allahabad High Court’s February 25 order that refused to grant anticipatory bail to her.

“A perusal of the Rules indicate that the Rules are more and more in the form of guidelines and have no effective mechanism for either screeing or taking appropriate action for those who violate the guidelines,” the judges said.

The new laws covering OTTs apart from other social media platforms, which the Centre described as light touch regulation, mandates OTTs to self-classify content into five age-based categories as is done by films and TV currently. The categories are – U (Universal), U/A 7+ (years), U/A 13+, U/A 16+, and A (Adult).

If consumers find that there’s been a violation of any of the guidelines or code of ethics laid down for OTTs, then they can seek redressal through a three-level grievance redressal mechanism with different levels of self-regulation. In the first level, the grievance would be handled by the publishers/owners of these entities. In the second level, there would be a self-regulating bodies of publishers/owners to be headed by a retired judge of Supreme Court, or high courts, or eminent person from the domain. If these two levels fail to satisfactorily address the grievances then the matter would be looked into by an oversight mechanism which would comprise an inter-departmental government panel.

On Friday, solicitor general Tushar Mehta assured the bench that a fresh legislation on digital platforms was under consideration and will be placed before the court.

On Thursday, the judges had expressed displeasure with many over the top platforms streaming objectionable content including pornography and had stressed upon a need for pre-screening of content on OTT platforms due to presence of pornographic material.

The uncontrolled viewing of films on OTT had cropped up during hearing of an appeal by Purohit who had sought protection from arrest in cases filed over Tandav, a nine-episode political thriller produced and streamed by Amazon Prime.

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