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Censorship in the OTT platforms: A close look at the freedom of speech and expression

Assuming we fabricate a rundown of things that are forbidden in India, we'll track down a great deal of things, however the restriction on over digital media material would be an inquisitive expansion to the rundown. Indeed, India has gained notoriety for being excessively tough on artistic opportunities. The right to freedom of speech and expression is enshrined in the Indian constitution and acts as a guiding principle in this respect.

A series of recent events have compelled many to doubt its hidden presence and the 'liberty' it ostensibly offers. This part of the legislation will require rapid correction in the future for our nation to make the essential growth in terms of unrestricted quality filmmaking. This article aims to present critical facts on censorship issues and their history, as well as the right to freedom of speech and expression and the legal challenges that surround it.

Introduction
Any democratic society is built on the foundation of freedom of expression. It is a fundamental human right that should be enjoyed by everyone, regardless of their cultural, religious, ethical, political, or another background.[i] All international human rights instruments regard free expression as one of the basic safeguards of a modern democracy.

It's a mash-up of the right to religious liberty with the right to freedom of expression. Censorship, on the other hand, is the practise of placing restrictions on the exercise of one's right to free speech, whether direct or indirect, governmental or otherwise.[ii] Political patterns and gatherings in any case incredulous of one another and regularly at far edges of political and philosophical range energetically shielded every others common rights.

The Moderates guarded the Extremist chief Bal Gangadhar Rao Tilaks right to speech and write what he loved. Further, the Karachi Convention of the Congress in 1931, passed a goal on Fundamental Rights which, inter alia, ensured right of free expression of opinion through speech and Press. Such a distinguished history guaranteed that freedom of speech and expression which turned into a major right in the Constitution.[iii]

It is one of the most essential components for a solid, open-minded based system and is foundation of any democratic society[iv] Article 19 (1) (a) of the Indian constitution mentions freedom of expression as one of the essential rights.[v]

Ever since the development of the OTT platforms, there have been many discussions on censorship of content on such platforms. According to reports, some content has been hurting the sensibilities of some groups, therefore the government has felt compelled to make modifications and remove the unsuitable footage from movies and OTT services. But limiting entertainment choices does not appear to be the greatest solution for coping with individual freedoms. Hence a view on the content on OTT platforms alongside the pertinence of censorship and the key right of the right to free speech and expression of content makers is included in this.

What are OTT platforms?
Over-the-top (OTT) is a word used to describe the distribution of visual material (films, videos, and original web series) over the internet. OTT platforms provide audiences with a variety of visual entertainment options, including films, television shows, and original web series. Netflix, Hotstar, and Amazon Prime are examples of Indian OTT systems that provide visual entertainment. The most tempting feature of an OTT is that it can be used and accessed at any time and from any location that has an online connection. Another compelling feature of these OTT platforms is the enormous range of visual material available, which is persuading a rising number of people to use this new technology.

Freedom of speech and Expression and its purpose
The right to free speech and expression is generally characterized as the conviction that everybody has the normal right to openly put oneself out there through any medium and across any boundary, without obstruction from the rest of the world (like restriction) or dread of reprisal (like dangers and mistreatments).

The right to free speech is perhaps the most praised similarly as predominantly checked normal freedom from any sort of administrative interference.The journey to safeguard free speech didn't have an unexpected start with the Constitution of India. In the time of India's battle for independence from British rule, the right to free speech was given tremendous significance by the public initiative. [vi]

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.[vii] Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution guarantees this basic right to all people.[viii] The Supreme Court stated that in a democracy, freedom of opinion and speech is a fundamental virtue that must be protected. [ix]

The capacity to freely publish and communicate one's thoughts, views, and other positions by any and all ways at one's disposal is part of the right to freedom of speech and expression.[x] The Supreme Court has often said that the right to free speech and expression not only underpins democracy, but also fosters tolerance for differing viewpoints. It promotes free exchange of ideas and fosters an open discussion culture, both of which are critical for a progressive and contemporary society.

The idea of the right to freedom of speech and expression is personally connected to the idea of democracy. Alexander Meiklejohn, one of the proponent of this contends that democracy implies self-government by individuals and for the appropriate working of which, an educated electorate is essential which, thus, requires that there be no limitations on the free flow of data and thoughts.[xi]

All citizens ought to have the option to shape their own convictions and impart them unreservedly to others. In aggregate, the essential rule involved here is individuals' right to know .The right to speak freely of discourse and articulation ought to, thusly, get a liberal help from every one of the people who believe in the participation of people in the administration.[xii]

The objective of freedom of expression is to fulfil a wide range of societal goals. It:
  1. Supports an individual in achieving self-fulfillment,
  2. Assists in the finding of truth,
  3. Enhances an individual's capacity to participate in decision-making, and
  4. offers a mechanism through which an acceptable balance between stability and societal change may be established.

The right to spread one's own opinions as well as the right to publish the views of others falls under the umbrella of freedom of speech and expression.[xiii] Right to information and communicate such information via media is also guaranteed under 19(1)(a). This basic right is one of the constitution's primary cornerstones, supporting the democratic framework. [xiv]

Many other core human rights are impossible to enjoy without freedom of expression and opinion. Allowing individuals to examine and report on human rights violations in public makes it far more difficult for those who are guilty to hide behind a cloak of silence and ignorance. The right to free speech and expression is significant for the soundness of the data environment. All types of expression give freedoms to disagree from the standard assessment which is a basic check of authoritative power. The right to speak freely and freedom of expression are commonly building up, depending on one another to keep the information system in balance.[xv]

With regards to democracy, freedom of thought and expression is a cardinal worth that is of central importance under our constitution.[xvi] The right to convey and receive ideas, facts, knowledge, information, and beliefs through speech or writing, drama, theatre, dance, music, cinema, or a newspaper, magazine, or book is a vital component of freedom of speech and expression.[xvii]

The first rationale is that a healthy and broad amount of free expression is required to demonstrate a thriving and properly functioning democracy. It also allows for the dissemination of ideas among the general public, stimulates people's thoughts, and offers a steady setting for intellectual exchange and discussion.

It enables for many points of view to be expressed on public policy, as well as useful input to legislators. It is seen that the right to free speech and expression is seen as a key principle in whatever medium it is spread under the Constitution of India and other overall records. Likewise, in the light of the creating use of web and online media as a method of practicing this right, admittance to this medium has furthermore been seen as a significant fundamental freedom.[xviii]

The right to freedom of expression is not considered unlimited; governments may still prohibit certain damaging types of expression. Restrictions have been imposed by the constitution on reasonable grounds as specified in Article 19(2) of the Constitution.[xix]

But as a social animal, man must pass on his ideas and thoughts to others. Assuming we need individuals to acknowledge popularity based techniques and laws that express the desire of the greater part, then, at that point, everybody should have a vote as well as a voice.[xx] Man must have freedom of thought and expression in order to be human; else, he is no better than a mindless drone with just one goal: survival and subsistence. Free speech serves as a sieve through which good and poor ideas may be filtered and improved legislation produced in the spirit of democracy.

A view on Censorship and its history
The term 'censorship' comes from the Latin word 'cernere' which means 'to estimate, rate, assess, or hold an opinion.[xxi]' The Oxford Dictionary defines a censor as 'an official who examines books, films, news, and other materials that are about to be published and suppresses any parts that are deemed obscene, politically unacceptable, or a security threat.'[xxii] The Webster Dictionary defines censorship as' act of suppressing speech or writing that is considered subversive of the common good.'[xxiii]

Looking at the history of censorship, Plato, a Greek philosopher, was the first to construct a justification for intellectual, religious, and aesthetic censorship. Official censors would prevent mothers and nurses from telling stories that were thought harmful or wicked in his ideal utopia portrayed in 'The Republic.' In Ancient Rome, freedom of expression was reserved for those in positions of power. The word censor comes from the Latin verb censere, which means to evaluate or assess.

Censorship is a term that encompasses a number of linked principles, the most notable of which is free speech, which is defined as the right to openly express or explain one's beliefs without restriction or interference. This term has evolved throughout time to encompass speeches, music, movies, and creative creations, among other things.

These are the numerous sorts of censorship that are used in a community or country, and one of its main purposes is to guarantee that free speech is suppressed on the grounds that it is objectionable or damaging to the public.[xxiv] These are the numerous sorts of censorship that are used in a community or country, and one of its main purposes is to guarantee that free speech is suppressed on the grounds that it is objectionable or damaging to the public.

For certain individuals, a film might appear to be hostile yet for some others, it might appear to be moderate. So it is out of line to direct what to watch and what not to watch. Content accessible on these web platforms might be questionable consequently settling for the audiences on the idea of any substance would be improper. The court has set up a balancing between the interests of free speech and expression and the interests of society which is very much aware by all.

Every one of us has the privilege to communicate our thoughts, and considering that we live in a general public with individuals of different social and monetary foundations. The actual presence of law is to secure the interests of individuals. In any case, in such baseless circumstances the right to speak freely and express freely is supressed. The opportunity is allowed to guarantee that citizens do reserve the privilege to stand up their perspectives unreservedly except if it seriously affects other individual citizens or harms the nation in that capacity.

Be that as it may, when such unjustifiable ban like censorship is being utilized to contain them it would just mean the end of the ability to free speech and expression. [xxv] This is an attempt by the government to censor and control the content of the intermediaries in order to further their own goals. The web has brought new difficulties for majority rule state run administrations, to their translation of freedom of expression.

It is said that internet freedom is declining all around the world and in this new world request, sovereigns are not prepared to surrender control and attempting to safeguard the old-world request wherein regard for law and boundaries, authority, solidness, and life established in one spot, overwhelmed. A normal goal for control is the upkeep of the rule of law, while the fundamental point of the states is to keep the public oblivious to the data that can possibly undermine specialists.

Without freedom of speech and expression, regardless of whether through conventional media or new advanced media, true democracy is unimaginable.[xxvi] Allowing the government to exercise such sweeping influence over what content is made available to the public allows the government to push content that benefits them while restricting content that does not.

Censors stopped prints from being distributed that were deemed injurious to 'religion, the general good and peace of the State, and the purity of morals.' Political prints from England were likewise viewed as a threat, and efforts were undertaken to prevent them from entering France.

Restriction on Creativity
Films and other forms of visual entertainment have always been strong pieces of art that have served to bring to light a lot of information that has been concealed in the dark. Due to its diversity, India's cinema industry is recognised as the most popular means of connecting with people, with each language having its own representation. Hampering the creativity and imposition of restriction is a violation of the basic fundamental right.

In LIC v Manubhai D Shah[xxvii], the Supreme Court declared that a filmmaker has the basic right to present a film as part of his right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution. Visual entertainment is recognised as a genuine, acceptable, and necessary medium for raising and treating societal concerns and mindsets. It recognises that a film's creators may project a message they wish to express. It is not required that everyone agrees to such a message. [xxviii]

However, this should not prevent a person from expressing his or her opinions or providing a rationale to support them. A democratic society must pave the path and provide the right to think beyond the box, which no one will object to.

In a democratic country everybody has a privilege to convey his perspectives on various undertakings. A huge number of perspectives are coursed all through the country consistently by various means. A film maker has a choice to spread his own viewpoints which the others may not help yet that doesn't forestall his entitlement to put himself out there and give shape through his manifestations.

Digital media art, like any other kind of art, exists only to represent an artist's creativity and ideals. Even in the recent past, simply engaging-to-entertain was anticipated, but now consumers demand material to engage their thoughts as well. In order to produce such items, filmmakers must consider what distinct concepts may be depicted on screen rather than focusing just on what would satisfy the censor board.

If a significant number of content on such platforms are banned on a regular basis, it limits the amount of creativity that can be expressed through this medium and creates a sense of dread.

When a creator is requested to cut out several sequences (in the name of 'censorship') that contribute a significant chunk of the content's theme or are deliberately positioned to narrate anything, his entire work is ripped apart. When a film or scene passes censorship in several nations without edits but is banned or censored in India, the natural inquiry is 'why is there a problem here?'

has a habit of creeping into our heads on a regular basis. It's reasonable that traditions differ, but you have the freedom to utilise it if the country's laws allow it. Additionally, the crowd has unlimited oversight over what they see, and neither the board, the government, or the court, in huge opinion, should venture into their perspective and conclude what they ought to or ought not to watch.

Nowadays, individuals are leaning toward OTT content over TV content in light of the nature of the substance. However, in case it is edited, the substance might go as far as a similar level as content on TV. This might debilitate the interest in OTT stages. OTT stages set out numerous business open doors and the absence of venture might switch its encouraging. With such a fast-changing world with individuals being bombarded with masses of information in the age of social networking, you can't keep something concealed for very long.

The opposing point of view is that there should be censorship or restrictions on OTT platforms. It is said that digital media materials are easily available to everybody due to their vast reach. When children are exposed to information that contains violence, harsh language, or sex, they are at a significant disadvantage.

Some individuals are also concerned about the growing impact of foreign culture, which is promoted via web series and movies. It is stated that censorship helps in the prevention of anti-social, hostile, and explicit content reaching the public, therefore preserving societal order. Censorship can safeguard people's feelings by prohibiting information that is offensive to certain cultures or tribes. Restrictions have been imposed by the constitution on reasonable grounds as specified in Article 19(2) of the Constitution. [xxix]

But Increased censorship would be harmful to India's economy since the nation is a significant creator of online video material in today's globe. It has made a name for itself on the international stage. Censorship will reduce the quality of material produced, having a substantial impact on citizens' digital rights, causing economic loss, and harming India's growing cultural influence and does cause a violation of the freedom of speech and expression. [xxx]

Conclusion
India is a country whose constitution, in addition to providing tremendous liberties and liberty, nevertheless imposes fair limitations. Censoring content for the sake of keeping up with public harmony, regarding feelings of individuals and comparable reasons are essentially not right. It might give wrong message to people in general through aberrant understanding. It is consistently the best that the actual watchers watch it and structure their own perspective.

OTT platforms have a bright future ahead of them, with more and more people using the internet and mobile devices every day. This is to protect particular communities and to guarantee that the country's and states' law and order are not jeopardised. Legitimate limitations upon individual right to speak freely ought to just be endured where they are totally important to forestall punishment of actual harm.

Oversight of OTT might debilitate assorted substance and inconvenience of restriction makes an infringement of the freedom of speech and expression and thus self guideline is preferred choice rather over control of these stages. The sovereign is in charge. Censorship is a violation of the fundamental right to freedom of expression and speech.

REFERENCES:
  1. Contradictions In Freedom Of Speech And Expression Author(s): V. Govindu Source: The Indian Journal of Political Science , JULY - SEPT., 2011, Vol. 72, No. 3 (JULY - SEPT., 2011), pp. 641-650
  2. Shameek Sen Journal of the Indian Law Institute Vol. 56, No. 2 (April-June 2014)
  3. Venkat Iyer, States Of Emergency: The Indian Experience (Butterworths 2000)
  4. Union of India V. Motion Picture Association , AIR 1999 SC 23345
  5. India Const. art. 19, � 1, cl. a.
  6. Madhavi Goradia Divan, Facets Of Media Law 46 (Eastern Book Company 2006)
  7. Article 19, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948 (UDHR)
  8. India Const. art. 19, � 1, cl. a.
  9. Shreya Singhal v UOI AIR 2015 SC 1523
  10. Brij Bhusan & Anr. v. The State of Delhi,1950 AIR 129, 1950 SCR 605
  11. Randal Marlin, Propaganda and the Ethics of Persuasion (Ontario: Broadview Press, 2002), pp.226-227.
  12. Brij Bhushan v. State of Delhi, AIR 1950 SC 129
  13. Srinivas v. State of Madras, AIR 1931 Mad 70.
  14. Mahesh Bhatt v. Union of India & Anr, 2008 BusLR 366 Del, 147 (2008) DLT 561
  15. Jolls, Tessa, and Carolyn Wilson. "The Core Concepts: Fundamental to Media Literacy Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow." Journal of Media Literacy Education, vol. 6, no. 2, 2014, pp. 68 -78, https://digitalcommons.uri.edu/jmle/vol6/iss2/6
  16. Shreya Singhal V. Union of India AIR 2015 SC 1523
  17. Ajay Gautam v. Union of India,15 January, 2020
  18. Bal Mukund Vyas (2008), "Sharing of Information with citizens", All India Reporter (Journal Section), 2008, pp. 171-176, at 176.
  19. India Const. art. 19, � 2
  20. Ursula Owen, A free society needs free speech, 18 EQUAL VOICES 17, 18 (2006)
  21. David Tribe, Questions of Censorship 36 (George Allen and Unwin, California , 1973)
  22. Censor" available ať. http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/ definition/ english/ censor (last visited on July 1)
  23. See Censorship, available ať. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/censorship (last visited on July 1, 2021
  24. Hilton, R. H. (1977). Censorship In India. Past and Present, 77(1), 142-142. doi:10.1093/past/77.1.142
  25. Sathyam Rathore, A critical overview of censorship in Indian Cinema in the light of Role of CBFC
  26. Virak, Ou. (2011). Internet Censorship: The Ongoing Crackdown on Freedom of Expression in Cambodia. Combodian Center for Human Rights
  27. Life Insurance Corpn. Of India And ... vs Prof. Manubhai D. Shah, 1993 AIR 171, 1992 SCR (3) 595
  28. Jagmeet Singh, "Netflix CEO Describes Why Self-Regulation Is Better Than Alternative," NDTV Gadgets 360, 19
  29. India Const. art. 19, � 2
  30. Censorship in India - The Truth, Live Wire

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