Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Here’s Why PEMRA’s Proposed Regulations for Web TV and OTT are Problematic

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When PEMRA published a proposal to manage Web TV and Over the highest TV proposal to manage Web TV and Over the highest TV content services in Pakistan, I’m sure it didn’t expect quite the reaction it’s been getting over the few days.

Most of the negative press and sheer misinformation being spread comes from a piece of writing published on a little-known site called “News Desk”. They published a bit about how Youtube content creators would wish a license that might cost between Rs. 50 lakhs and Rs. 1 crore.

Let’s start with a timeline:

 8th January: PEMRA launches a consultation paper on regulating Web TV and Over the highest content services in Pakistan.

23rd January: PEMRA holds a gathering in Islamabad with key stakeholders and therefore the industry to urge feedback on the document.
31st January: A site nobody should trust publishes a hyper-sensationalized piece and chaos ensues.
There’s no got to panic (right now) so with mild reassurances aside, let’s advance to PEMRA’s paper itself.

First, I’m not really sure why PEMRA is taking the lead on these regulations in the first place. The agency with the mandate to manage digital media is that the PTA. and that they already police online content in accordance with the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) 2016. PEMRA can’t enact any Web TV or OTT regulations, including implementing them. While PEMRA says it’ll liaise closely with PTA on compliance, why are two agencies doing an equivalent work? Don’t we’ve enough bureaucracy and bureaucratic procedure because it is?

Secondly, this is often a working document. meaning the ultimate draft will look very different from the present iteration. These are proposed regulations that also explain what other countries have in situ so people can make informed suggestions on what model Pakistan must follow and later, implement. So any judgment on what the govt is and isn’t doing is premature. They’ve asked for feedback so let’s provide that rather than criticism.

You Can’t Regulate What You Can’t Define:
While PEMRA provides guidelines for determining what’s and isn’t Web TV or Over the highest TV, the scope definition for these terms is vague.

Take Web TV as an example, “The Web TV will ask broadcast of content either live or recorded made available for viewing of the general public through internet either freed from cost or on payment of a subscription fee.”

This could mean anything from platforms like Hum TV and its latest dramas to a desi mum’s cooking video channel with 14 subscribers.

Moreover, while PEMRA wants different licenses for Web TV and OTT, the definitions really don’t do much to truly define them.

OTT’s definition says that “the term Over-the-Top (OTT) TV refers to content services which are accessible over the web and may be accessed from anywhere at any time on private or public internet by users employing a sort of devices either freed from cost or by paying a subscription fee to the service providers.”

The definitions have tons of overlap and are ambiguous. PEMRA must make a transparent case for why they’re separating them within the first place and if they are doing so, they ought to make the definitions concrete. Vague definitions are often wont to bring literally everything under the ambit of regulations and that they would set a remarkably poor precedent.

What Happens to Individual Content Creators and Startups?
How it should work is that only platforms would wish to get an internet TV or Over the highest TV license and individual content creators should remain unaffected. for instance, Youtube gets a license (we’re not even opening which will of worms right now) and therefore the content creators like Irfan Junejo et al. keep it up creating content a bit like they are doing now.

That’s not what the document proposes though.

There’s a scarcity of clarity on the status of content creators on YouTube and other platforms. the rules for judging what falls under Web TV and OTT are insufficient to work out whether PEMRA would require them to urge a license or not.

For instance, PEMRA thinks anything competing with a linear TV could fall into the ambit of Web TV and OTT. Does that mean Junaid Akram’s vlogs now require a license because they’re causing a decline in viewers of any of the idiotic game shows on TV? How would PEMRA even determine that?

According to the document, non-commercial or non-economic services won’t need a license. But who defines non-commercial or non-economic? If I even have an informational channel but work with a brand for Rs. 5000 to market a product I prefer (which would also benefit viewers), does that suddenly make me susceptible to get a Rs. 5 million licenses?

There’s just too much grey area within the proposed regulations for the foremost vulnerable section of online content creators in Pakistan: individuals, startups and little businesses.

How Many Millions?!?
The ambiguity in definitions exacerbates what was merely a problematic policy suggestion to a full-blown existential crisis for individual content creators, startups and little businesses.

Since we can’t determine who must get a license, the foremost draconian interpretation would indeed require YouTube creators et al. to urge licenses. That’s a drag because here’s what proportion they cost:

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