An open letter to Justice A.P. Shah on the online video self-regulatory code

We write a letter to Justice Shah placing our concerns on the online video streaming self-regulatory body that he has been reported to head.

12 February, 2020
2 min read

TL; DR:

Last week the the Internet and  Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) announced the launch of its Code for Self Regulation of Online Curated Content Providers. This code industry wide code is signed by just 4 online video streaming providers and is intended to apply to the entire sector. It will require self-censorship practices which are there in the Television sector to be implemented for online video streaming services such as Arre, Amazon Prime, MX Player and Netflix. The code also creates a private body called the Digital Content Complaint  Council (DCCC) to judge complaints and impose penalties. As per press reports it will be headed by Justice A.P. Shah who is a steadfast defenders of civil liberties and democratic values. With a view to place the several concerns of institutionalised self-censorship and chilling effects, we wrote him an open letter yesterday.

In detail

In the past we have repeatedly warned of the dangers of a dangerous self-censorship system for online video services that is being championed by the Internet and Mobile Association of India ("IAMAI"). This system is called the, "Code for Self Regulation of Online Curated Content Providers" and we have in detail explained how this will cause tremendous damage to artistic creativity, user choice and innovation in the video streaming sector. This essentially institutionalises a dangerous TV style self-censorship system that will have a chilling effect on the diversity of content and programming.

This "Self Regulatory" code also creates a judicial body with what is called as a, "Tier 2" for adjudicating any complaints on the content of the shows which are aired on online video streaming services. This body is called the Digital Content Complaint Council ("DCCC") and when the intial complaints to the signatories of this code (which are online streaming companies) are not settled, it hears them as a judicial case. It also will determine complaints sent by government departments and also can take suo-motu action. Such powers are generally modelled from the Broadcast Content Complaint Council ("BCCC") that is a body for television broadcasters in India. The results of such practices in the TV sector are for everyone to see (or, due to censorship not see).

As per media reports the first Chairperson of the DCCC is the distinguished jurist and the retired Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court, Hon'ble Justice (Retd.) Mr. A.P. Shah. We hold Justice Shah in the highest regard for his intellect and courage in being a consistent voice for democratic rights - especially media freedoms. Due to the lack of response by the IAMAI we, yesterday sent an open letter to Justice Shah highliting our concerns and prior correspondence. This is in our continuing effort that self-censorship practices that have made TV broadcast an arid medium do not migrate to the internet.

Our letter to Justice Shah is a good faith effort. We have the highest faith in his ability to adjudicate and hold this position while protecting free expression. However, the larger, industry wide model that is being institutionalised and is likely to be cemented that will last beyond his term is injurious.

Important Documents

  1. An open letter to Justice A.P. Shah dated February 12, 2020 on the DCCC.
  2. The latest Code for Self-Regulation of Online Curated Content Providers released by IAMAI on 5th February, 2020.
  3. Our letter dated 7th February, 2020 sent to IAMAI, also copied to the Ministry of Information and  Broadcasting (MIB) and the Ministry of Electronics and Information  Technology (MeitY).
  4. The Code of Best Practices for Online Curated Content Providers released by IAMAI and signed by 9 players in January 2019.
  5. Our letter dated 17th January, 2019 to the IAMAI outlining our concerns relating to the initial IAMAI Code of Best Practices.

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