Govt drafts OTT platform regulation

Draft has been published online for opinions from the public and stakeholders

The government has drafted a set of rules for Over-the-top (OTT) media platforms that will require them to register after gaining security clearance from law enforcement agencies.

Under the draft rules, OTT platforms will also have to abide by rules on obscenity, defamation, and hurting religious sentiment, although the platforms will not be governed by censor board like the film industry.

The draft guideline on OTT operations was published on the website of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting on February 3 for opinions from the public and stakeholders.

OTT platforms offer media services directly to viewers through the internet, and they are currently completely unregulated in the country. Popular OTT platforms in the country include Bioscope and Hoichoi, while the most widely used OTT platforms globally are Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Hulu. 

According to the draft rules, Bangladeshi OTT companies would need to get security clearance from law enforcement agencies before they can register and offer their services to viewers. The Home Ministry would run background checks on the companies.

For international OTT companies, the Foreign Affair Ministry would provide the security clearance after looking into the backgrounds of the companies through foreign channels. 

The registration would be valid for three years.        

The guideline empowers the government to remove any “objectional content” without contest. OTT platforms would not be allowed to host talk shows show news content, limiting them to entertainment programs and advertisements.

The rules would also require OTT platforms to split their content into five age categories, as well as add a parental lock mechanism, pin, and password to accounts. The OTT platforms themselves would categorize their content.

The age groups would be all ages (G), parental guidance suggested (PG), parental guidelines suggested (12-15 years old) and content for adults (15+).

Information and Broadcasting Minister Dr Hasan Mahmud told media OTT platforms were growing in demand, but there was currently no regulatory system for their content.

“It is easy to censor cinemas as just 50 to 100 films are released every year, but it is very tough to censor the hundreds of programs on OTT platforms through the censor board,” he said.

Md Mokbul Hossain, secretary of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, told Dhaka Tribune that the draft guideline would be placed at an inter-ministerial meeting after the public and stakeholders had given their opinions.

“Hopefully, we will finalize it by this month or the next,” he said.

However, the policy prepared by the ministry may face some changes, as the High Court in an order also asked the Posts and Telecommunications Division to work on the same issue.   

The Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) has already published a draft Regulation for Digital, Social Media, and OTT Platforms, 2021.

Md Mokbul Hossain said the court will hold a hearing to decide which of the two regulations will be finalized soon

What content cannot be published on OTT platforms?

Any content that may undermine the Liberation War, national anthem, national flag, or the state’s principals are prohibited. Besides, no sexually explicit material may be created or displayed in content for children.

Any content that hurts religious sentiment or encourages militancy will not be allowed on the platforms. Any content that is prohibited by law or a court order will also not be allowed.

Contents that may hurt bilateral relations with friendly countries is also barred.

The government can scrap the registration of a platform if they violate any part of the regulation. However, the platform will get 30 days to provide explanations for the allegations against them.

Self-regulation

As there will be no censorship system, content creators and hosts would be asked to apply their own judgment on content, keeping in mind that no prevailing law of the land is violated. This will be applicable for all online curated content providers, uncurated content providers, and OTT content providers.

The content platforms must preserve content for one year, so that it can be extracted if anyone files a complaint and starts legal proceedings.

Complaint resolving system

OTT platforms will appoint a complaint officer and will publicize their name, designation, and contact information. The officer will receive complaints from aggrieved users and will dispose of them in 21 working days. 

If the issue is not resolved by the deadline, the aggrieved person can forward their complaint to the registration authorities. The registration authority will hear both parties and dispose of the complaint. 

The authority can take steps against the OTT platform under the Digital Security Act (DSA), if necessary.

Both parties can go to the high authorities of the government if they are not satisfied with the registration body’s decision.

OTT platforms must submit a list of the complaints they have received every three months.

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