Censorship Of OTT Platforms: A Boon Or Bane
Over the top (OTT) media service is a streaming media service offered
directly to viewers via internet. This platform has overtaken the task done by
television through cable, satellite, etc. There are a large number of OTT
platforms working in India such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hotstar, Voot, etc.
Unlike the content provided by cinema or television that is regulated by CBFC,
BCCC, etc., the OTT platforms have no regulatory body over them to control the
content streamed, and consequently enjoy their freedom.
The content provided on such platforms though in violation of various laws of
the nation is still under Supreme Court's observation. Whether the platform
shall be under a self-regulatory body or there shall be a proper legislation
which provides for a statutory body to control and censor the content streaming
on such platforms is an important question.
Government's Take On The Issue
The Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Law and Justice,
Electronics, Information and Technology, Telecom and CBFC do not exercise any
sort of jurisdiction over such platforms. The Government considers such platform
to be intermediaries where they cannot exercise jurisdiction.
Although, as per Rule 3(2)(b), (c), (e), of Information Technology
(Intermediaries guidelines) Rules, 2011, due diligence shall be observed by the
intermediaries in displaying, hosting, publishing any obscene, pornographic or
unlawful content and shall not harm minors. As per Rule 3(3) the intermediary
shall not knowingly host, initiate transmission of such content.
In 2016, Justice for Rights, an NGO filed a petition [W.P. (C) 11164/2018]
before the Delhi High Court, alleging that Hotstar displayed soft-pornographic,
unethical and religiously inadequate content and this promotes disrespect to the
country, objectifies women, engages children in criminal activities, and
somewhere promotes terrorism. They urged that the platforms shall be regulated
and censored or licensed and the vulgar and legally restricted content shall be
removed. However, the petition was dismissed and is currently pending in Supreme
Court [SLP (C) 10937/2018].
Previously the need for legislation was not felt. But in the current situation
there is requirement of a body that regulates the content provided by OTT
platforms. However, in a recent report, MEITY has refused to introduce
censorship but they plan on making a self-regulatory body. Last year Digital
Curated Content Complaint Council (DCCCC), an adjudicatory body was formed by
Hotstar, Sony Liv, Jio and Eros, to deal with the content provided by such
platforms and to avoid imposition of Government's own rules on them.
But to our surprise, most of the OTT platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime,
Alt Balaji, Mx Player, Zee, etc. don't support this move as it is similar to the
Broadcast Content Complaints Council (BCCC), a self-regulatory body for non-news
entertainment channels. They think that the thin line difference between a
broadcasting channel and an OTT platform will get null and their Right to Free
Speech under Article 19(1)(a) (Freedom of Speech and Expression) will be
However, the said OTT platforms contravene Article 19(2) of Constitution, which
provides for reasonable restriction on Freedom of Speech and Expression in the
interests of sovereignty and integrity of India, security of State, public
order, decency or morality, etc. The Government has power to remove any content
that is objectionable and/or harms India's sovereign interests under Section 69A
of IT Act i.e., Power to issue directions for blocking for public access of any
information through any computer resource, the said section is considered to be Internet
Reason For The Arousal Of This Necessity
The most recent issue surrounding OTT's was the John Oliver show on Hotstar,
where he actively criticized Narendra Modi and CAA and the show was further
blocked on Hotstar. A similar incident occurred on Hasan Minaj's show that
dealt with Lok Sabha Elections, 2019 and was highly criticised later.
However, Netflix didn't succumb to the pressure. Shows such as Sacred Games was
criticised as it mentioned some speculative lines on Rajeev Gandhi and also
mentioned about the Bofors scam. Leila was criticised as it hurt the feeling of
Hindus by promoting Hinduphobia. It was highly criticised by viewers.
Other than Netflix, Amazon Prime also deleted an entire episode of CBS Political
Drama "Madam Secretary" in its Indian version. The show was said to hurt the
sentiments of various people as it deals with Hindu Nationalism, India occupied
Kashmir, violence on Muslims by majoritarian society, etc.
Recently the Madhya Pradesh High Court dealt with the situation in a PIL filed
by an NGO, Maatr Foundation (W.P. No. 18801/2019).
The plea was filed to deal with the regulations against alleged streaming of
obscene and sexually explicit content. They alleged that these media content
streamers are broadcasting content that is unregulated, un-certified, vulgar and
legally restricted. The platforms portray women indecently and shall be punished
under sections 3, 4 and 7 of Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act,
The streamers shall also be punished under Sections 292-294 of Indian Penal
Code, 1860 for publicly exhibiting, distributing and portraying obscene acts,
pamphlets, representation, figures, etc. The content can also be viewed by
children under 18 years of age which exposes them to sexual acts, terrorist
activities and vulgar content.
Indians On Censorship
As per a survey by YouGov, 57% of people (1005, approximately.), support partial
censorship for online streaming. They think that a lot of offensive content
i.e., unsuitable for public viewing is put up on such platforms. Majority of the
people supporting censorship are adults of the age above 40s. However, the
strongest arguments against such censorship is that the content on OTT platforms
are Subscription on Demand, where viewers have choice to pay and select what to
watch.Apart from this, the piracy of movies is another factor why filmmakers
take the route of OTT. There are a large number of artists who don't have enough
money to portray their creative thoughts through cinema, OTT comes as a great
breakthrough for them.
Perhaps it provides a worthy pedestal to build gripping story lines. And this is
the reason why most of the viewers get attracted to the content provided by such
platforms. They are fearless of the involvement of political parties and hence
stream bold narratives and plots. They portray various socio-political issues
which due to one or the other reason is not included in mainstream cinema.
And even after censorship in cinema, time and gain there have been huge disputes
with regard to various movies like Padmavat, PK, My Name is Khan, etc. So there
exists no reason that after censorship on OTT platforms, the content will not
face any opposition.Also the content available on such platforms are
affordable,belongs to the native language, deals with regional content, provides
free-trial facilities to users and most importantly is convenient. In the
current pandemic like situation, there is a huge rise in viewers of OTT
platforms. As per a report by Secretary of MIB, the rise in viewers of the OTT
media providers shall increase 21.8% annually.
Countries like Singapore, UK have regulatory bodies to keep a check on the OTT
platforms. In Singapore, the service providers have to display the elements such
as nudity, drugs, sex, violence, etc. in the content.
However, in UK, the OTT platforms face the same scrutiny as any public service
broadcaster. Australia has a principal legislation BSA, 1992 that governs the
OTT sector. While in Turkey, there is a licensing regime under which the OTT
platforms are given a licence for 10 years. Countries like Indonesia, Turkey and
Saudi Arabia have strict regulations. They want total control in the hands of
Government. Many OTT platforms including Netflix has been blocked.
Looking at the present scenario, the need for an unbiased regulatory body is a
must. The Internet Content Streaming cannot be controlled by a self-regulatory
body. The body shall distinguish responsible content for regulation. The OTT
platforms and the Government shall work together on this and end this issue once
and for all. At this point of time OTT platform is at a nascent stage across
the globe. India needs to make sure that they cope up with the needs of the
people while making a legislation.
The basic purpose behind the law shall be clear; whether it is made to protect
the audience or to bridge the regulatory gap.The Intermediary Rules, 2011 shall
also be kept in mind as violation of the Rules shall lead to cancellation of
their license. Total censorship on the platform will transform it into nothing
more than a television show or mainstream cinema. Also, it would lead to
increasing cases of piracy.
The public today is looking for content that brings out the truth of the
society, deals with socio-political issues, provides us regional varieties and
utmost importantly doesn't hurt the sentiments of a single class of people.
Hence, these regulatory gaps and grey areas are alarming.
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