Indian Supreme Court Asks Big Streamers to Review Content

The Justice for Rights Foundation, an Indian non-government organization (NGO), filed a plea “seeking regulation on the functioning of” over-the-top (OTT) platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney+ Hotstar, among others before the Supreme Court.

According to Business Insider, the NGO claimed that OTT series like “Sacred Games,” “Tandav,” and “A Suitable Boy” among other shows, “have allegedly hurt religious, social and regional sentiments of the public at large.” Even popular international shows “Game of Thrones” and “Spartacus” were called out as being too vulgar and pornographic to be viewed by a wider audience.

What Does This Mean?
Essentially, the Justice for Rights Foundation is seeking to curb streaming content that is “unregulated and uncertified” for general audiences. According to Inc. 42, a three-judge bench led by Justice DY Chandrachud heard and discussed the filings made by the NGO regarding OTT regulations.

Along with the NGO’s plea, the apex court also heard the Indian government’s transfer petition plea that was initially filed back in Nov. 2020, to gather all OTT platform-related cases filed in various High Courts across the country and move them to the apex court.

Around 23 cases related to OTT content were heard throughout the Indian courts. By intending to transfer these to the Supreme Court, the government is trying to ensure that all cases are heard and that they do not end up clogging up the rest of the judicial system. This also means that whatever the Supreme Court ultimately decides, the other courts will have to comply.

Was a Decision Made?
After hearing the government and the NGO’s plea, the Supreme Court ordered a stay against all cases seeking OTT content regulation pending before multiple High Courts. The court will hear the proceedings for a similar case that is pending before it in the second week of April 2021, which is also when it will take a call on the transfer of all cases from the High Courts to the apex court.

What Are the Current Measures?
In response to the petition filed by the NGO, the government submitted an affidavit indicating the legal position governing OTT platforms: “There is a mechanism for regulation of the OTT Platforms under the provisions of the Information Technology Act, 2000 and the newly framed Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021 notified February 25, 2021.”

While announcing these new IT Rules for OTT platforms and social media services, the Indian government outlined the “due diligence, grievance redressal and self-regulation measures.” It stated these new guidelines will pave the way for an Inter-Departmental Committee (IDC) comprised of representatives from various ministries, who will oversee complaints surrounding broadcast and online content. The IDC will be headed by an “authorized officer of the ministry” with powers to block specific content. All content must carry a classification certificate with one of the five ratings: U (Universal), U/A 7+, U/A 13+, U/A 16+, and A (Adult).

However, the plea filed by the Justice for Rights Foundation states that the new IT Rules are mere guidelines that lack an effective mechanism for their proper implementation, and do not provide for any penalty or punishment in case of violations. It also states that the effective regulation of content on OTT platforms sans legislation is not feasible.

What Do the Courts Think?
In a previous virtual hearing in early March regarding the denial of a pre-arrest bail plea filed by Amazon Prime’s Head of India Originals by the Allahabad High Court, another Supreme Court Justice Ashok Bhushan remarked that the new IT rules “lack teeth” as there is no provision for prosecution or fine, and the guidelines don’t do enough to keep a check on “pornographic” content.

The Supreme Court then made it amply clear that it was in favor of “screening” content shown on these platforms. It noted that, “Traditional film viewing has become extinct. Now films and web series are viewed by the public on these platforms. Should there not be some screening? We feel there should be some screening… There is pornography on some films.”

The defense counsel disputed the court’s opinion that pornographic content is screened on OTT platforms. “I can show you thousands of films, not even one of them has pornography,” senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi asserted.

 

The U.K.’s Creative Industry Faces “A Point of Jeopardy” as Streaming Gains Ground

It has been a year since citizens of the world were asked to shelter in place to keep family, friends, and neighbors safe. With everyone staying home, the entertainment industry has had to adapt and evolve. People who would normally go out for dinner and a movie on a Friday night have whipped up new recipes at home and hit play on the latest Amazon Prime or Netflix original movie. This brought many broadcasters face to face with the “existential threat” of streaming.

According to Variety, the latest virtual Deloitte and Enders Media and Telecoms conference hosted many people from the U.K.’s technology, media, and telecom sectors. They highlighted how, before the pandemic, the “creative industry was going through a period of phenomenal growth” but in the year since is confronting “a point of jeopardy.”

Tim Davie, director of the BBC, told Variety that the creative industry is “a brilliant British success story and it needs fueling and [investment].”

“The government are proactive on this,” he continued, “which is a situation in which we can ensure that there’s the right prominence in new environments for public service broadcasters. That is critical. It protects local creative work.”

Carolyn McCall, CEO of ITV, told Eminetra the public service broadcasts (PSBs) need “fair competition for it to work.” With streaming companies taking increasingly more users away from standard broadcasting and cable providers, “a broadcaster that provides public goods … will be dramatically eroded.”

Everyone likes to see local talent and fan favorites on TV; Alex Mahon, chief executive of Channel 4, surveyed viewers and found that “viewers see them as being more responsive to their experiences and to their lives …. helping them to view the U.K. and the world from the inside of the U.K., taking the familiar and sharing it through a new lens, as opposed to the exports who are looking from the outside in, often showing us people that we enjoy watching, but that we can in no way relate to.”

But even with such positive feedback, in the face of Big Tech and streaming platforms, it may be time for PSBs to band together to save themselves.

“It’s critical we collaborate,” said Davie, “The truth is we’ve always come together and created things that have had real value. We need to be working together and creating scale together in the new world. In areas like platform, we’ve got to think about what’s the future of open platforms. And, finally, I think we stand together in areas like prominence. There is a question for us as a community, as a culture, as the U.K., which is what kind of media market do we want? And we’ve always made those choices.”

Even with “niche streaming services” like Britbox, Freesat, and Freeview, local channels will fade away to make room for their competitors if they do not do something to increase viability. Coming together in collaboration could ensure that they keep the essential elements of public service broadcasting in an age where content is just a click away.

 

Australia’s New Media Bill Could Give Big Tech the Boot

Big Tech is on watch with Australia’s new media bill. Introduced to parliament in December 2020, the new bill “will pass into law fairly soon” and require digital platforms to pay for news. This means that companies like Google and Facebook will have “to pay local media outlets and publishers to link their content,” according to CNBC.

Paul Fletcher, Australian Minister of Communications, Urban Infrastructure, Cities, and the Arts, spoke with CNBC’s “Street Signs Asia” about the new law, saying the government expects large companies like Google and Facebook to comply with the bill. “The democratically elected government of Australia expects that businesses that are doing business in Australia will comply with our laws.”

How Much Does Each Company Pay?
According to the bill itself, each digital platform must make an offer to each registered news business corporation (RNBC): “the agreement specifies that the responsible digital platform corporation will ensure the payment of remuneration to the covered RNBC (or a related body corporate of the covered RNBC) for the making available of the registered news business’ covered news content by one or more of the covered services, in respect of the covered period.” Any offer made by a company then becomes a binding agreement.

Essentially, the amount paid is determined by an offer made by the company in question (Google, Facebook, etc.) to an RNBC, and it is then either accepted or declined by the RNBC.

What Kind of News Are They Paying For?
The bill defines all covered media content as “core news content” or “content that reports, investigates or explains current issues or events of interest to Australians.” Essentially any news that a user could get through a basic Google search or scroll through their Facebook feed would be regulated by this law. This has executives at Google and Facebook concerned.

What Does this Mean Going Forward?
According to CNBC, Google could pull its search engine from Australia entirely, despite its 94.5% market share. This move could allow other companies such as Bing or DuckDuckGo, to expand their reach and user base. Facebook (and FB-owned companies) have also come out saying they could prevent Australians from sharing news on their social networks.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai met with Fletcher as well the Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, and Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, to discuss the bill. During the meeting, it was made clear that Google would have to comply with the terms if they wanted to maintain a presence in Australia.

“We have seen from time to time over the last few years, big tech companies — typically U.S. tech companies — make threats about leaving Australia if they weren’t happy with our regulatory settings,” Fletcher said.

According to The Guardian, Tim Berns-Lee, who invented the iconic world wide web (WWW) in 1989, said this new media bill “risks breaching a fundamental principle of the web by requiring payment for linking between certain content online.”

Berns-Lee went on to say that blocking a user’s ability to share links with other users was a core value of the web and requiring companies to pay for that privilege was considered a world-first provision.

“If this precedent were followed elsewhere it could make the web unworkable around the world,” he said. “I therefore respectfully urge the committee to remove this mechanism from the code.”

Google and Facebook are the primary targets of this bill, since they make up 80% of the advertising spend in Australia. Facebook appealed to the Australian Senate committee, arguing that the new regime created by the bill was “complex, unpredictable and unworkable for our business.” They even suggested that such a bill runs “contrary to the Australia-US free trade agreement,” echoing a similar concern from the US government.

Google also believes the code is unworkable, and “would break the way search engines and the internet work for everyone.” It even proposed that their search engine be exempt from Australia’s new code.

According to Financial Review, Microsoft’s president, Brad Smith, thinks the media bill helps “level the playing field” between Big Tech and news media. He said he would make sure Microsoft complied with the order and was willing to sacrifice profit if the US government decided to adopt a similar bill.

Standard Ratings versus User Ratings: What’s the Difference?

Often, before going to see a film at the theater, or pressing play on our remote, we check the rating of a film or series. On most streaming platforms, this is found on the title’s information page. For movies in theaters, ratings are found at the end of the trailers played on television commercial breaks or in the paper.

MPAA Film Ratings

We check film ratings, so we understand what we type of content we are going to see. Since 1922, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) has provided us with a standardized rating system, allowing us to know what to expect from a film.

The MPAA established film content guidelines, paving the way for the streaming services we all know and use today. Netflix, Paramount, Walt Disney Studios, and Warner Bros. are just a few of MPAA’s affiliates. All association members adhere to a voluntary film ratings system (circa 1968, replacing the Hayes Code of 1930). Although MPAA ratings have no legal standing, theater owners can enforce the assigned ratings and choose not to exhibit nonrated (NR) films.

Image Courtesy of screencraft.org, information from MPAA

Television Ratings

Television ratings depend more on the contents’ distributer and country of origin. In the United States, television ratings are easily identified by the TV- that precedes a rating, as well as the timeslot in which the show is scheduled. As in other countries, contentious material or material rated for viewers above the age of 14 or 16 is never allowed to air before 9 p.m. and after 6 a.m. (approximately).

Image Courtesy of  ResearchGate

Overall, a show’s distributor oversees how its content is rated. Netflix manages rating of its content, NBC supervises rating of its shows, etc. Ratings are a way of placing content into a specific age bracket, thus ensuring viewers will know, generally, what to expect from a show or film before pressing Play –they are meant to assist viewers in understanding what to expect from a show or series, and who should avoid what type of content.

User Ratings

Beyond movies, television, and even video game ratings, there are user ratings. Several organizations have formed to either provide a broad user-based review of available media, like Rotten Tomato’s audience score; Nielson Global, with their ability to parse peak user interaction and viewership using sampling methodology; and Common Sense Media, which focuses on providing safe and educational media for children and their families.

Though the United States relies on the MPAA system for film ratings, it also relies on word-of-mouth. Why else do people read movie reviews? According to a “US News” article from 2014, the MPAA system has fallen under scrutiny because of its broad definition of what qualifies as PG-13. Public survey information is scarce, and with everyone stuck at home while we wait out COVID-19, many are looking for the next thing to watch on Netflix, Hulu, or Prime-either by word-of-mouth, a written review, or simply scrolling through the ever-growing queue.

Switzerland Reveals New Youth Protections for Film and Video Games

Switzerland’s Federal Council recently submitted a draft of the Youth Protection Act (YPA), which will make age labels and controls “uniformly stipulated throughout Switzerland and made mandatory for films and video games.”

 

According to Media Landscapes, existing legislation provides “guaranteed freedom of press and freedom of trade” as stipulated by Article 16 of the Swiss Federal Constitution. While the Federal Council finds the current broadcasting corporation “most suitable for the future” it did find the need for more stringent demands regarding the requests and public service offerings for Swiss youth. Under the YPA, all media, regardless of how it is presented to the public, will be regulated while keeping the broadcasting corporations on a similar budget to previous legislations.

 

What Does It Do?

According to the International Law Office, the YPA “aims to enhance the protection of minors against inappropriate media content that could endanger their physical, mental, psychological, moral or social development.” The new law also takes a firm stance against the use of data, especially the data of youth users. While data can be collected per on-demand and platform agreements, under the YPA that data cannot be used for commercial purposes—the use of a minor’s data for anything besides age verification will earn a Sfr40,000 fine, roughly $45,177.53 USD.

 

When Does It Go into Effect?

Swiss Parliament is set to discuss implementing the YPA in spring 2021. While nothing is certain, Parliament is already keeping a closer eye on service providers and how they handle youth data.

 

Younger generations are turning away from more “classic or traditional media”; Media Landscapes reported only 20% of people under the age of 24 watch Swiss television broadcasts, while 70% of those over 60 still do. This is because youth are less inclined to watch broadcast content and would rather stream something from a popular provider or download a video game. Even with dwindling broadcast numbers, the Federal Council has chosen to keep the current structure with the addition of the YPA.