Censorship of OTT Content

Over the Top or OTT platforms are a means of broadcasting media content on a large scale to people who may or may not have subscription to the specific service. It is very much similar to the concept of the television in the sense that the same technology is needed to access the media. However, where OTT and Television broadcast differ are in terms of accessibility of select content. It is mostly accessed through the Internet. On most OTT platforms, the user can choose what he/she wants to access unlike a television where in only a channel can be chose but not the content that the person wants to choose. This has led to OTT platforms gaining popularity in the market. OTT allows user to access anything anywhere as long as the device is compatible to run an internet connection and the specific application or portal.

While television content is very much regulated and censored, the same cannot be said for the various OTT platforms. Part of the reason is the fact that OTT is relatively new. The audience pool for OTT is so vast that there are separate services for kids and adults. Famous platforms for accessing such content are Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+ Hotstar, Hulu, Voot etc.

Coming to the possible reactions of the audience because of such censorship can be multifaceted. There are people who want the values of their society upheld and vulgar acts to not be shown whereas there are some who want to access content as the maker intended it to be to preserve the originality of the movie/series. These kind of people believe that cinema is an art, like paintings and music which should not be censored to bring out the true meaning of the message that is to be conveyed by the stakeholders who created such content. Then there are others, who wish content to be regulated keeping in mind the Indian values and rituals. There is a third category that does not care and enjoys content they wish to see ignoring content they find unattractive.

Foreign content is the biggest bone of contention for most people due to the high frequency of number of movies and shows including strong language, nudity and use of drugs. Due to the liberal and understanding nature of the content consumers in such nations, it is easy to air content in different countries. In India however, with the large number of cultures, diversities and a mostly orthodox approach to life, it is easier to understand why such content is problematic. However, foreign content isn’t the only problematic factor in the OTT space.

A famous example is the Ekta Kapoor production House, Balaji Telefilms, issue wherein the story line of the show depicted an army officer’s wife engaging in extra-marital relationship, while her husband is on duty. This received a lot of backlash as it was insulting to the real life army officers who sacrifice their lives for the protection of the citizens of India.

Another example can be the airing of a series named Mirzapur, the story of which is based in the Mirzapur district of Uttar Pradesh. The series depicted different rivalries and gangs in Mirzapur who considered themselves above the law and also included extreme violence and sexual content. This was taken up by the Supreme Court of India, after a lawyer filed a case against Amazon, whose portal aired the series. It was contended that the story shown in the series was against the values of the people living in Mirzapur and also gave a false image to the rest of the world about the political system in the district and the state at large. By showing such ridicules and shameless things on the name of a city/ district is the insult of approximately 30 lakh population and rich culture of Mirzapur,” the plea said. There are various other production houses sued for various number of movies or series made by them such as ‘Padmaavat’ and ‘Tandav’.

The Government’s new regulations for OTT players require them to remove any content flagged by authorities within 36 hours and setting up a complaint redressal mechanism with an officer being based in the country.

While content is filtered due to the non-compliance with the values and methods of society, it must not be done so for everyone. In times of a global pandemic when all of us are going through some form of health and emotional stress, limiting entertainment options does not seem to be the best choice for dealing with the freedoms of individuals. The entertainment industry players are worried that the new and upcoming regulations might not just concern strong language, nudity, violence, and drugs in OTT web series and other online content.

As a law student, in my opinion, the censor board that is set for movies works on an ambiguous framework and the previously mentioned examples only go on to prove my point.  All movies are released only after censorship as per the Cinematographic Act, 1952 and the additional rules established in 1983. It is further supported by the Information Technology Act, 2000 as far as cases and liability are concerned. Clearly the times have changed, the art of cinema has evolved and so should the law.

If I were to give suggestions, I would recommend that fictional or altered names be used by the producers of such content. This reduces the association with reality and helps in establishing the fact that the story so told is fiction and will have a lesser effect in influencing the younger generation to carry out malicious acts. It can also help them evade liability as opposed to actually mentioning real life places, people and events.  

Furthermore, it is my opinion that the people of India need to become a little more tolerant to art and content. People need to understand how to be a part of the third category of people as mentioned earlier and enjoy the content they like while not engaging in content they find spiteful. Padmaavat was a bone of contention due to its name and heritage behind Rani Padmini. This was also taken up by the government even which resulted in the change of name from ‘Padmaavati’ to Padmaavat.  OTT can be the building block of opening ourselves up to other cultures and understanding how things are carried out across the globe. Platforms should have child locks, age systems and proper filtration system in order to carry out further operations as per the government and I consider this to be a good move. Most platforms already do have such mechanisms in place which are globally tested and certified.

And finally I am of the opinion that the censor boards needs to lay down proper, codified and strict rules regarding some content that may spread hatred, incite rage and affect the fundamental rights entitled to the people. A proper framework works as a system check where in only if all the boxes are ticked, only then the content will be allowed to air.

Together with the growth in understanding of the general public, the makers of content and a stricter but fair guideline system in censoring, the true potential of OTT platforms can be utilised for the betterment of Indian cinema space in the long run.

Aishwarya Says:

I have always been against Glorifying Over Work and therefore, in the year 2021, I have decided to launch this campaign “Balancing Life”and talk about this wrong practice, that we have been following since last few years. I will be talking to and interviewing around 1 lakh people in the coming 2021 and publish their interview regarding their opinion on glamourising Over Work.

If you are interested in participating in the same, do let me know.

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