Digital Content Regulations Section Off Marketers

Experts take the center stage to discuss if this move will be fruitful or perhaps a full stop on digital's independence

With the latest announcement of The Internet And Mobile Association Of India (IAMAI) and The Indian Broadcasting & Digital Foundation (IBDF) forming their own grievance departments for the Online Curated Content (OCC) publishers, it has created ripples in the media industry yet again. Monitoring or censorship of digital media content has been a persisting conversation and the formation of The Digital Publishers Content Grievances Council (DPCGC) and Digital Media Content Regulatory Council (DMCRC) respectively, has only left the house divided. 

Both being chaired by retired Supreme court judges, these departments aim to protect consumer rights and empower consumers with the right tools to make informed decisions, as well as have their grievances addressed. The formation of this body is an important step towards consumer choice, as more and more people are viewing content online, believes IAMAI.

The tightened control over digital news media and OTT (over-the-top) video streaming platforms was notified by the Information & Broadcasting Ministry in March 2021, when it had informed about the new rules, which required setting up of grievance redressal mechanisms.

Whether we will witness a level-playing field for all media or consolidation amongst players or restrictions on digital’s independence or simply shutting down of a few apps, will only be seen with time. However, we ask industry experts on how they are looking at this move- of whether it will be fruitful this time or perhaps another fish in the policy pond.

“I think it is a good move. It's becoming extremely difficult for the digital space (publishers) to operate with the government rules. A grievance body will help the publishers get an equal opportunity to share their views on the new/redundant policies,” says Chirag Sangai, Head of Client Partnerships, White Rivers Media.

For Manish Tiwari, Director, Here and Now 365, there is no precedence in the democratic world. “This might again open a Pandora’s box as rampant politicisation will try and block creative content. Indian media, including digital publishers need to be protected against censorious elements. The western world is mature and rarely is there a call for censor here. Freedom of expression is fundamental and upheld accordingly. Unfortunately, India is prone to different pressure groups and if the work of the council is not managed in an apolitical manner, it will end up playing in the hands of various pressure groups,” he comments.

However, Brand Expert & CEO, TRA Research, N. Chandramouli admits that the digital medium is of utmost importance today, and its independence should be without any restrictions. “This regulation will severely impede the digital medium’s independence and is a sort of ‘censorship’, as there is literally no content that does not find objection with someone or the other. We live in a society that is deeply divided, and there are people sitting with little else to do, but find objections. Even the most beautiful poetry has its critics, and this rule will curb digital independence.”

An Empowered Consumer In Reality?

The bodies have reiterated that these new rules are an important step towards consumer choices, as most of them are avid online users. This will also serve as a transparent and open channel to effectively address consumer grievances. 

Mihir Karkare, EVP, Mirum India expresses that it’s important that consumer grievances have a very specific way to get addressed. Without such a specific channel and an empowered body, we see consumer grievances and even outrage being misdirected. “In that sense, this will be a good measure – and will benefit consumers as well,” he adds.

Chandramouli holds a contrasting view here. He believes, “We have already seen that authority can be made to bend, and this committee will be chaired by a retired Supreme or High Court judge. It will be up to the whims of this committee and Chair to decide on the complaint, and that, unfortunately, can destroy the independence of news on digital platforms.”

Tiwari also agrees that the success of this move depends on how the Council is selected. “Political power in India is well known to influence media and there has to be some mechanism that the highest standards of free expression are upheld by the Council,” he asserts. 

Ploy For Publishers?

Marketers again go in different directions when asked about the impact this move will make on the publisher's end. While some foresee better compliance from publishers, others advocate that this will adversely affect them, as they will be forced to address all kinds of grievances including religious and moral policing of content which in a country like India can to go any extent.

“For a lot of filmmakers and writers, who might face the brunt and be at risk of their work being censored or blocked,” worry experts. They also see it as a form of digital oppression as these regulations will curb their freedom, put restrictions on the content and result in a lot more time spent in litigation. 

While a large number of platforms have already agreed to be under IAMAI’s self-regulatory body, we await if the pending ones will also come under the ambit.