Efficacy Of Legal Framework For Censorship Of OTT Platforms

In a world where the only entertainment channel everyone knew was Doordarshan   and the whole family shared the same television screen. But with the change in the preferences single television screen changes to a multiple 5 inch screen called “mobile phones”.  Now, we can easily opt for different online multiple channels on a single  screen and for  that we don’t  need  to stand in a line to buy a ticket  ; all we need is a  “subscription”.

  • WHAT IS OTT?

As the word says OTT (OVER THE TOP) services refers to a streaming media services offered directly to viewers via the internet bypassing cable, broadcast and satellite TV platforms that traditionally act as distributor of such content.  OTT serve as the platform through which several media services are conveyed to the viewers i.e. us.

“   It’s no surprise that streaming video is taking over television. Netflix has over 148 million subscribers worldwide and growing.”[1]

The content we see on television are restricted by various organs like BCC , CBFC ,  and many other which lays down various guidelines before broadcasting  content on our television screens. However, if we look at the regulations regarding the content broadcasted on these OTT platforms, it would not take much time because there aren’t many as such.
Yes, there is no such body which regulates OTT platforms they are free to show contents whether they are defamatory or hurts the sentiments of people.

There are at least 40 OTT platforms including global ones such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hot Star (Disney Plus) and hundreds of news content websites. While news on sensitive content on some of the larger OTT platforms makes the headlines — Netflix’s Sacred Games and A Suitable Boy have both come under fire from various groups — a bunch of home-grown platforms that largely air soft-porn have managed to stay under the radar.

The year 2020 saw a record 30% increase in the number of OTT platform subscribers following the outbreak of COVID-19[2]

  • OTT platforms in India reach around 40 million customers and make up a market worth around Rs.3000 core

 

CONTROVERSY OVER OTT PLATFORMS

Where there is an OTT there is a controversy. Use of cuss words , playing with religious  faith ,  depiction of specific place  are most prevailing as well as common among OTT platforms . There was a petition filed against famous web series Mirzapur which present the diminishing picture of place.  Recently I & B (INFORMATION AND BROADCASTING) ministry look upon these OTT platform but faced a failure being barrier on “freedom of expression”.

In a case of Padmanabh Shankar vs. Union of India, 2019,   the petitioner prayed to the court to consider 4 matters.

  • Suitable regulatory authority should be set up  by court  to regulate these OTT platforms
  • Until the time such an authority is set up, the court should make these platforms come under the purview of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) and also the Cinematograph Act of 1952.
  • The petitioner prayed to the court to make these OTT platforms liable and not get to use the safety cloak available to them under Section 79 of the IT Act.
  • In his last prayer petitioner requested that the viewing of content that is available over the internet inside the four walls of an office or a house should also come under the meaning of “public exhibition”.

It was not possible for the court to give remedy to the first prayer, since it “is not possible to accept submission that transmission of films, cinemas, serials, etc. through the internet, will come under purview of Section 2 (C) of the Cinematograph Act.”  Therefore since the second prayer of the petitioner was dependent on the decision of the first one, the same cannot be dealt with. The court also mentioned that even though they cannot provide relief for what the petitioner has prayed for, the concern expressed by him was of serious consideration, and wished the state to look into this matter.   Lastly the purpose of censorship and certification of audio-visual entertainment in India is not to restrict freedom of speech but to ensure that children do not get exposed to material that may be psychologically damaging.

  • WHY OTT COULD BE A PROBLEM?

 “Empathy is reduced. Objectification is increased. Morality erodes.

  • Justin Coulson 

An average person spends around 30 -35 minutes on OTT platforms. With exclusive offerings OTT platforms are busy engaging kids with their content , due to which they  are emerging as one of the fastest-growing audiences on digital media, over-the-top

Children now days are facing depression, aggression and eyesight problems. Reason for these health issues is none other than excessive use of internet and screen addiction.  We all are aware of the fact that  content broadcasted are  not age appropriate and are influencing young minds in a wrong direction .  In India talking about word SEX itself is a taboo and persons below the age of 18 years are not capable of giving sexual consent. Further, children who watch adult-targeted content are more likely to become sexually active at a young age (in their adolescence). OTT platforms function as a liberal library of content and anything can be accessed by any user at any given time. As a result, kids can now readily access mature or age-inappropriate content which poses psychological harm. Free access to content which is generally a taboo in many households and societies can now be enjoyed by the child in privacy. Unfortunately, children do not understand the consequences of watching extremely violent or hyper sexualized content.

  •  What can be done?

The Malaysian Netflix has tried to cope up with this problem. The Malaysia has released a better version by which parents can regulate the content watched by their children by setting second password to their profile. Parents can set up self regulation system to regulate the content showed on screen of children.

Children of teen (above 12 yrs) are full of curiosity about the world of adults and OTT Platform works as a Pandora’s Box for them.

  • Consumers can be divided into two basic groups on the basis of age groups:  Children (below 18 years of age) and Adults (18+). Adults are allowed to access all publicly released material in India whether in theatres or at the comfort of home. On the other hand children are not allowed to watch films certified ‘A’ and are not allowed to watch, without parental guidance, films certified ‘U/A’ in theatres.
  • Government should look upon OTT platform and come up with laws regulating such platforms.
  • Till then parents can eye check their children and subscription can be made up according to age appropriate. Let not forget that parents are in the best place to decide what their children can watch at home?

Disclaimer: The views are personal

Aditi Gupta

2nd Year

Vivek College of Law, U.P.

 

 

[1]   Jeremy Harvey  : OTT insights  August 19/2019 ,  available at https://www.wicketlabs.com/wicket-blog/how-ott-streaming-is-changing-the-face-of-media/

[2] IBEF Blog  , India’s ott market: witnessing a rise in number of paid subscribers ,     https://www.ibef.org/blogs/india-s-ott-market-witnessing-a-rise-in-number-of-paid-subscribers
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