The OTT platforms have told the government that the new tobacco warning regulations will be impossible to implement, and they will restrict the freedom of speech of content creators.
The streaming platforms, including Netflix, Amazon, Disney, and Mukesh Ambani’s JioCinema app, had a closed-door meeting on June 2 to discuss the new tobacco warning guidelines and ways to challenge them, as per the reports. Fearing that they would have to edit millions of hours of existing web content, the OTT giants are discussing the legal challenges against the new regulations.
During the closed-door meeting, the executives of Netflix, Amazon, Disney, and Mukesh Ambani’s JioCinema were worried that these new rules would harm the customer experience and would force foreign production houses to block their content in India. Also, it would complete the streaming platforms to edit millions of hours of content, which would be a herculean task. The executives also discussed the legal challenge arising due to the new regulations, as the Ministry of Health doesn’t have jurisdiction over the streaming platforms; only the Ministry of Information Technology and Broadcasting have jurisdiction.
As per the letter by the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), these new regulations have ‘fundamental concerns’ and will face ‘practical difficulties’ in their implementation.
According to IAMAI, the amount of content being commissioned and licenced in India as well as from other countries is very high. The letter stated, “To create and incorporate multiple health spots, audio-visual disclaimers, and warnings in multiple languages for the same piece of content poses significant logistical issues”.
The IAMAI has issued a warning, stating that the regulations will “throttle creativity and artistic expression” and have a major impact on consumer viewing experiences. IAMAI states, “At the outset, we would like to highlight that there was no consultative process with the industry before the notification of these rules”.
IAMAI states that India’s Online Curated Content Provider (OCCP) community identifies the significance and need to reduce tobacco consumption. But highlighted that the government did not consult the streaming platforms, “The Rules are designed for the 57 OCCPs registered with MIB (Ministry of Information and Broadcasting) under the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 (“IT Rules”). However, these 57 OCCPs were not consulted to share their thoughts and inputs”.
The IAMAI states, “To create and incorporate multiple health spots, audio-visual disclaimers and warnings in multiple languages for the same piece of content poses significant logistical issues”.
Though the activists welcomed these new tobacco rules as they would discourage tobacco consumption as it is responsible for killing 1.3 million people annually. But IAMAI stated, “Such disruptions are also problematic for creators that put in considerable investments and efforts in creating their films and series, and adversely affects their artistic freedom”.
Last month, the Ministry of Health mandated streaming platforms to embed static health warnings within three months in sequences that feature smoking as part of India’s anti-tobacco campaign. As per the new regulations, the display of anti-tobacco health disclaimers, lasting a minimum of thirty seconds each at the beginning and middle of the program.
Furthermore, streaming platforms must display anti-tobacco health warnings as a prominent static message at the bottom of the screen while displaying tobacco products or their use. Additionally, an audio-visual disclaimer on the ill effects of tobacco use, lasting a minimum of twenty seconds each, must be shown at the beginning and middle of the program.
When introducing the new tobacco regulation, the Union Health Minister, Dr Mansukh Mandaviya, said, “It is time to create wide awareness among youth and the nation regarding the seriously debilitating and harmful effects of tobacco consumption”. He showed concern over rising tobacco consumption among the young generation, which is the future of our nation. The Union Health Minister appealed to people to break free from the shackles of tobacco and embrace a healthier lifestyle.
Tobacco has a number of negative health consequences and, in the worst-case scenario, can result in death. It kills more people than tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, and malaria combined worldwide. It has also been reported that tobacco consumption in both smoking and chewing forms is significantly associated with severe COVID-19 symptoms. Tobacco users pre-existing health conditions, such as respiratory and cardiovascular disease, were observed to exacerbate disease symptoms, making treatment of COVID-19 patients more difficult owing to their fast clinical deterioration.