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New rules for OTT, social and digital media: 8 takeaways

The rules announced by the Centre include a grievance redressal mechanism, self-regulation, a Code of Ethics and age-wise classification of OTT content

IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad addresses a press conference in which new regulations for social media and digital websites were announced. Photo via AP

The Centre has finalized new rules for social and digital media and OTT platforms. The changes were announced by Union ministers Ravi Shankar Prasad and Prakash Javadekar in a press conference on Thursday. These include age-wise classification of content, self-regulation, a Code of Ethics and a three-level grievance redressal mechanism.

Though the ministers said the new rules were based on minimum government intervention, these are expected to significantly alter the Centre's powers vis-à-vis Big Tech in the aftermath of its recent tussle with Twitter and controversies surrounding streaming shows on Amazon Prime and Netflix.

The rules will come into effect from the date of their publication in the gazette, except for the additional due diligence for significant social media intermediaries, which shall come in effect three months after publication of these rules. Here are 8 takeaways:

Social media users to be given a forum for grievances

Prasad said social media was welcome to do business in India, but its users must be allowed a forum to air grievances in a time-bound manner. "We are empowering the ordinary users in this process,” he said, adding that complaints have been received that social media has been used by criminals to spread chaos, malign corporate houses and impinge on privacy.

Grievances to be addressed in lieu of a Code of Ethics

The ministry will create a grievance portal “as the central repository for receiving and processing all grievances from the public in respect of the Code of Ethics”, according to the draft rules. User grievances will be acknowledged within 24 hours and disposed of in 15 days. Social media platforms must have a chief compliance officer, a nodal contact person and a grievance officer. A monthly report of complaints received and action taken must be published.

Disclosure of first originator of “mischief”

Social media platforms will have to disclose the first originator of controversial posts in relation to sovereignty, security of the state, law and order, and explicit material.

Voluntary verification of accounts, reasons for disabling access

Social media platforms must voluntarily verify users. Any user being banned or cut off from a social media platform has to be given reasons by said platform. Also, all “unlawful information” – related again to sovereignty, security etc – must be removed upon intimation by court order or authorised officer.

Disclosure of details by OTT platforms

Both OTT and digital news media will have to disclose their details (from where they publish, subscriber numbers etc). Javadekar said the Centre was not mandating registration, but just wanted information. OTT and digital media will have grievance redressal just like social media.

Self-regulatory body for OTT

OTT platforms will self-regulate and will be subject to a body headed by a retired Supreme Court or High Court judge that will ensure adherence to a Code of Ethics.

Self-classification of OTT content

There will be age-wise classification of content on OTT platforms, and a parental lock mechanism to help ensure children do not see adult-oriented material.

Oversight mechanism

The I&B Ministry will facilitate adherence to a Code of Ethics by developing an oversight mechanism, including an inter-departmental committee for hearing grievances.

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