Censorship of OTT platforms, Erwin Thomas Wison@LexCliq

A subscription video service delivered directly to subscribers over the internet is known as an over-the-top (OTT) media service. This platform has surpassed television’s role as a source of information through cable, satellite, and other means. In India, OTT platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hotstar, Voot, and others are available. Unlike the service produced by cinema or television, which is controlled by the CBFC, BCCC, and other regulatory bodies, OTT channels do not have a regulatory body over them to oversee the content streamed, and therefore enjoy their independence.

Government’s Stand on the Issue

The Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, the Union Ministry of Law and Justice, the Union Ministry of Electronics, Information and Technology, Telecom, and the CBFC has no authority over such networks. The government views those platforms as intermediaries on which they have no authority.

In 2016, Justice for Rights, a non-governmental organization, filed a petition [W.P. (C) 11164/2018] in the Delhi High Court, alleging that Hotstar broadcasted soft-pornographic, immoral, and religiously insufficient material, which promotes contempt for the nation, objectifies women, engages children in illegal activities, and promotes terrorism. They demanded that websites be supervised, blocked, or authorized and that vulgar and legally prohibited content be excluded. The appeal, however, was rejected and is still pending before the Supreme Court [SLP (C) 10937/2018].

Previously, there was no sense of the need for regulations. However, in the current scenario, a body that governs the content delivered by OTT platforms is required. MEITY, on the other hand, has declined to implement censorship and now plans to create a self-regulatory agency, according to a recent study. Last year, Hotstar, Sony Liv, Jio, and Eros created the Digital Curated Content Complaint Council (DCCCC), an adjudicatory body, to deal with the content delivered by such sites and prevent the imposition of government-imposed laws.

Reason for such a Legislation

The most recent OTT controversy included John Oliver’s Hotstar program, in which he openly attacked Narendra Modi and CAA, and the show was later blocked on Hotstar. On Hasan Minaj’s program, which was about the Lok Sabha Elections in 2019, a similar incident happened, which was widely criticized later.

Netflix, on the other hand, resisted the pressure. Sacred Games was panned because it had some speculative lines about Rajeev Gandhi and discussed the Bofors scandal. Leila was chastised for fostering Hinduphobia, which offended Hindus. It was widely panned by audiences.

In a recent PIL filed by an NGO, Maatr Foundation (W.P. No. 18801/2019), the Madhya Pradesh High Court addressed the situation.

The plea was entered in response to government legislation prohibiting the streaming of pornographic and sexually explicit material. They said that these media content streamers broadcast unchecked, uncertified, obscene, and legally limited content. The websites depict women indecently and will be prosecuted under the Obscene Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986, sections 3, 4, and 7.

Indians on OTT Censorship

According to a YouGov poll, 57 percent of people (1005, on average) favor partial censorship for online viewing. They believe that certain sites host a lot of objectionable, or otherwise inappropriate for public consumption, content. The majority of those in favor of censorship are adults in their forties and fifties. However, one of the best points against such censorship is that OTT platforms’ content is Subscription on Demand, which allows users to pay and choose what they want to watch. Apart from that, movie piracy is another reason why filmmakers want to go the OTT path. 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 offers a worthy platform from which to build gripping plot lines. And it is for this purpose, the majority of audiences are drawn to the content offered by such channels. They are unafraid of political parties’ participation, and therefore produce bold storylines and plots. They depict various socio-political topics that are not addressed in popular cinema for various reasons.

International Perspective

OTT channels are controlled in countries like Singapore and the United Kingdom. In Singapore, service providers must include elements in their content such as nudity, drugs, sex, crime, and so on.
However, in the United Kingdom, OTT outlets are subjected to the same oversight as any other public sector broadcaster. The OTT market in Australia is governed by the BSA, 1992 regulations. In Turkey, though, a regulatory regime in place grants OTT platforms a 10-year license. Indonesia, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia both have stringent rules. They want the government to have complete authority. Netflix and other OTT sites have been blocked.

Conclusion

Given the current situation, the need for an independent regulatory authority is critical. A self-regulatory agency would not be able to regulate Internet Content Streaming. For the purpose of regulation, the body must distinguish between responsible and non-responsible content. The government and OTT networks will collaborate to resolve this problem once and for all. OTT platforms are only in their early stages around the world. When drafting laws, India must ensure that it addresses the interests of the people.

 

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