OTT platforms face censorship in India

Bhavisha Madaan

23rd November 2020

OTT platform shall face censorship in India (Source: Business Insider)

India is considering applying potential censorship on streaming platforms such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. While film and TV certification bodies already show restrained public content in India, the country's laws do not allow censorship of content on the progressively popular online streaming platforms.

Soon, online streaming portals might have to adhere to the same censorship rules as that of television. On November 11, the Centre took online streaming and content providers and news websites under the domain of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.

While the Press Council of India regulates print media in the country and the television channels are obligated to adhere to the Cable Television Networks (Regulations) Act, 1995, the online portals stand unregulated.

So far, the OTT platforms have been favoured a generous amount due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as cinema halls were closed for the most of this year. Bollywood film release rights have also been bagged by platforms like Netflix, Hotstar, and Amazon Prime, unlike the pre-pandemic times where films could only be streamed on OTT platforms after running in movie theatres for weeks.

Several court cases and complaints have been filed to the police in recent months, alleging that some content was obscene or insulted religious sentiment- which glinted the government's raising concerns to take such a step.

Less than five years old, the OTT business in India has pushed the cover in terms of creating bold and courageous content. Original TV shows and movies on Netflix and Amazon Prime escape the snip when it comes to nudity, violence, coarse language or any disturbing or alarming content because they don't have to deal with the pressure of certification from India's Central Board of Film Certification.

An Indian politician filed in a police complaint last month, accusing some Netflix shows of 'defaming Hindus'. There were also concerns expressed by some government officials about the difference of appearance of content on different mediums. For example- The mandatory anti-tobacco textual warnings are not being followed in the Bollywood movies that are available on Amazon Prime or Netflix in India.

It has been exhilarating for the creators and artists to put forth a narrative that is bold and to experiment with the medium and to explore the creative freedom which is majorly limited while making mainstream Bollywood movies. "It is refreshing as a film-maker to not have censorship on OTT platforms", Kabir Khan, a Bollywood film-maker, told Quartz in an interview in January. For the audience too, it has given them an abundance of choices to make in terms of regional-language content, newer narratives and to see the perspective of original creators from a variety of backgrounds.

Censorship can often prove to be a slippery slope, and India's multi-hued OTT universe would do everything it can to avoid regulation or even being banned. Judging the current scenario, the need for an unbiased regulatory body is a must. A self-regulatory body cannot control online Content Streaming. The government will have to work with the OTT platforms to put an end to this issue.

Today's public is looking for the type of content that brings out the real face of the society, deals with sensitive socio-political issues, provides us a variety of languages and region, and most importantly not hurt the sentiments of even a single class of people. Hence, these regulatory gaps and grey areas are alarming.

(Sources: Business Today, Money Control, Quartz India, Legal Service)

Edited by: Aditi Anilkumar

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