Though this issue has been floating in the media for quite some time, this became a hot potato after CM Nitish Kumar called for censorship of OTT platforms for vulgar content that is responsible for crimes against women In June. He averred that the existence of inappropriate content on these platforms is unacceptable and urged the PM to take steps to censor such content.
How did this demand come about and what are the legal dimensions? Is public in agreement of such censorship? How will regular streamers and these platform owners react to this? Read ahead for a clearer picture:
CM KUMAR’S APPEAL TO THE PM
Holding OTTs (Over The Top) responsible for the rising violence and crimes against women and children, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has written a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, asking him to censor content on Netflix and Amazon Prime and other such streaming platforms and urged the PM to take necessary steps to bring programmes broadcast through streaming platforms within the ambit of certification under the Cinematograph Act, 1952.
He also said the production and broadcast of such programmes with obscene and violent content should also be brought under the purview of crime so that such kind of activities are not perpetuated further in the name of entertainment.
The CM has also flagged the harmful effects of inappropriate and pornographic content in December 2019. A total of 587 complaints of crimes against women were filed between March 23 and April 16, National Commission for Women data showed. Of the total 587, 239 complaints were related to domestic violence. This might have also been a reason for the petition to censor content streaming websites and platforms.
POPULARITY OF OTT PLATFORMS AND CENSORSHIPS
A five-poll survey was conducted by community platform LocalCircles to check citizen perception of the OTT platforms available in India, which received more than 40,000 responses from across India. The survey also found that 42 per cent respondents had a subscription for just one OTT platform while 25 per cent subscribed to two OTT platforms, 33 per cent said they have a subscription for 3 or more OTT platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hotstar. The primary reason, according to 53 per cent respondents, for using OTT platforms was that they could watch content as per their convenience, while 9 per cent said the content is high quality, another 9 per cent said they like the uncensored content and 11 per cent said they have a lower cost than others and the rest were unsure.
But while these platforms are becoming popular, there’s also the raging debate about censorship of their content and a majority of respondents to the same poll said they would like some kind of censorship or monitoring of these shows/movies. One of the findings was that 63 per cent respondents said OTT platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hotstar, Zee5 and so on in India should be subjected to some kind of censorship rules of government code of conduct, while 32 per cent disagreed. The main issue respondents had with OTT content was adult-only content being easily accessible to children. The top concern was obscene content, others said it was “anti-national” content, many had issues with content deemed insulting to certain religions and castes and there were also concerns about the use of very strong language. However, sizable section of the respondents (37%) said they had no issues with content on these OTT platforms.
THE CONCEPT OF SELF REGULATION
The centre has been mulling the idea of regulatory body for OTT platforms since 2019 and issued a self-regulatory code was drafted in January this year. The ministry of I&B gave OTT platforms issued a directive to set up an internal adjudicatory body for the purpose of content regulation along with finalizing a code of conduct. Citing the example of streaming platforms in China, France and Singapore who abide by government regulations for streaming content, Prakash Javadekar in March had set up a meeting with industry giants, giving them a deadline to abide by the rules set by Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMA).
In an affidavit, the Ministry of I&B said it may be relevant to have an institutional mechanism of self-regulation by these media platforms, as it is with respect to other media like print and electronic along with the provisions of IT Act. It was of the contention that a uniform code could aid these individual OTT platforms to determine the nature of content and put in place the kind restrictions they require.
AVAILABLE LEGAL MECHANISMS
Before the DCCC, complaints related to the platforms’ adherence of news and non-news broadcasters with the programming code were looked into by bodies like News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA) and Broadcasting Content Complaints Council (BCCC).
The IAMA had in February, launched the Digital Curated Content Complaint Council (DCCCC), which will be a mechanism to let consumers file any complaints related to streaming or online content and get a time bound redressal.
The DCCCC is aimed at promoting customer confidence, commerce and creative content in India while also censoring content banned by the court, radical religious speeches, and those that depict violence against the state and child pornography. This is the second stage of the self-regulation model code adopted by industry players last year. The Council will be chaired by Justice A P Shah, and will include other eminent personalities with keen knowledge of the digital medium, content creators and experts.
However, unlike nine signatories to the code last year, the DCCCC currently has only four online curated content providers (OCCP) on board Hotstar, Voot, Jio, and SonyLiv, because the other major OTT players are still against the idea of censored content and believe they must have autonomy to decide on content and resolve consumer complaints on their own.
One instance of this code being put in place is when Hotstar had blocked an episode of comedian John Oliver’s show ‘Last Week Tonight’ where he criticized the CAA Act.
Also, there is a proposal to bring the so far unregulated OTT platforms within the purview of information and broadcasting ministry from the ministry of IT, according to Amit Khare, Ministry of I&B Secretary. If this comes to pass, then these OTT platforms will be subjected to adjusted gross revenue (AGR) system that applies to Telecom companies.
But whether they are censored or not, According to Boston Consulting Group, India’s OTT market will reach about $5 billion in 2023. So it will be interesting to see the politics surrounding OTT platforms play out in the coming future