AUTHOR’S NAME – Vaishnavi Madhukar Karegaonkar.
AFFILIATION – Advocate, Maharashtra.
India has a history of censorship and restrictions on online content, particularly when it comes to political and religious content. In recent years, the Indian government has increased its efforts to regulate online content, particularly on streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime. These platforms, known as Over-The-Top (OTT) platforms, are not subject to the same regulations as traditional broadcast media, but the Indian government has sought to bring them under its purview.
In 2020, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting proposed guidelines for OTT platforms, which included a self-regulation code and a grievance redressal mechanism. The guidelines Would require platforms to remove content that is deemed to be offensive or harmful and to establish a mechanism for addressing complaints from users. Critics of these proposals have argued that they could lead to increased censorship and a chilling effect on free speech. They also argue that the guidelines are not necessary, as existing laws and regulations, such as the Information Technology Act, already provide sufficient authority for dealing with offensive or harmful content online.[i]
In addition to government censorship, OTT platforms also face pressure from various interest groups to remove content that they find objectionable. This has led to a number of controversies, with some content creators and users accusing platforms of censorship and others praising them for taking action against offensive or harmful content.
The development of OTT censorship in India is an ongoing and complex issue, with many stakeholders involved and varying perspectives on the role of censorship in protecting citizens and upholding free speech.
It also reflects on the current scenario of digital sovereignty, with the Digital India campaign, it had become more crucial to have a regulatory framework for OTT platforms, to safeguard the data, and consumer interest and also maintain national security.
What is OTT :
“OTT” stands for “over-the-top,” and refers to the delivery of film and television content via the internet, without the need for a traditional cable or satellite television subscription.[ii] OTT content can be accessed through a variety of platforms, including smart TVs, streaming devices such as Roku or Amazon Fire TV, as well as mobile devices and desktop computers. This allows viewers to watch programming on their own schedule, rather than being tethered to a TV schedule, and to access a wider variety of programming than is typically offered through traditional cable or satellite providers.
Popular OTT services include Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, and many more.
Meaning of censorship on OTT :
Censorship on OTT platforms refers to the restriction or removal of content that is deemed inappropriate or offensive by the platform or by governments. The extent of censorship can vary widely depending on the platform and the country in which it operates.
In some cases, censorship may be applied by the platform itself in order to comply with local laws or to adhere to its own community guidelines. For example, a streaming service may choose to remove certain shows or movies that depict graphic violence, or that include offensive language or hate speech.
In other cases, censorship may be imposed by governments, which can order platforms to remove certain content or can block access to the platform altogether. This is often done to control the spread of information or to suppress dissenting voices. This is particularly common in countries with more restrictive governments, where censorship can be more widespread.
It’s important to note that censorship can be a controversial issue and there are arguments on both sides regarding the extent to which platforms should be able to control the content that is available to their users.
Regulatory body on censorship in India :
In India, censorship on OTT platforms is regulated by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB), which has the authority to issue guidelines and regulations for digital content providers. In recent years, the MIB has issued a number of guidelines aimed at curbing offensive or inappropriate content on OTT platforms, including measures such as age classification of content and mandatory parental controls.
The government of India has also given the power to the internet and mobile association of India (IAMAI) to self-regulate and monitor the content, as a result, IAMAI had set up a Digital Content Complaints Council (DCCC) to self-regulate the streaming of content on various streaming platforms including OTT platforms.
The DCCC would investigate complaints and take action against streaming platforms if they are found to have violated the guidelines set by IAMAI. This includes removing, blocking, or requiring a rating, warning, or any other type of notice on the content.
In addition to the IAMAI, there are also other organizations that monitor and regulate digital content in India, such as the Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) and the News Broadcasters Association (NBA). These organizations work to ensure that digital content providers follow established guidelines and regulations to maintain standards of ethics, social responsibility, and accountability.
However, it’s important to note that censorship on OTT platforms in India is still subject to legal challenges. Freedom of speech and expression is a fundamental right under the Indian constitution, and any restriction of that right should be reasonable and necessary as per the law.
All in all, censorship on OTT platforms in India is a complex issue that involves balancing the need to protect viewers from offensive or inappropriate content with the right to freedom of speech and expression.
Pros & cons of OTT :
Censorship on over-the-top (OTT) platforms is a complex issue that has both pros and cons. On one hand, censorship can help protect vulnerable individuals, such as children, from harmful or inappropriate content, and it can also help prevent the spread of hate speech and disinformation. On the other hand, censorship can also be used to stifle freedom of speech and expression, and it can be used as a tool for political or social control.
Pros of OTT platforms ;
One of the main arguments in favor of censorship on OTT platforms is that it can help protect children from harmful or inappropriate content. Many OTT platforms have strict content guidelines that prohibit the distribution of content that is violent, sexual, or otherwise inappropriate for young viewers. This can help parents feel more secure about letting their children use these platforms, knowing that there are safeguards in place to protect them from harmful content.
Another argument in favor of censorship on OTT platforms is that it can help prevent the spread of hate speech and disinformation. Social media platforms have been criticized for allowing the spread of fake news, hate speech, and other forms of misinformation. By implementing stricter content guidelines and stricter enforcement, OTT platforms can help reduce the spread of this harmful content. This can help create a safer and more tolerant online environment, where people of all backgrounds and beliefs can communicate and share information without fear of harassment or abuse.
Cons of OTT Platforms :
However, there are also arguments against censorship on OTT platforms. One of the main arguments against censorship is that it can stifle freedom of speech and expression. The internet and social media have become some of the most important platforms for people to express themselves and share their ideas and opinions. Censorship on OTT platforms can limit this freedom of expression, and it can be used to silence voices that are critical of government policies or societal norms. Another argument against censorship on OTT platforms is that it can be used as a tool for political or social control. Governments around the world have been accused of using censorship to silence political opposition and to control the narrative around sensitive issues. In some countries, OTT platforms are required to comply with government censorship policies, which can lead to the removal of content that is critical of the government or that covers sensitive political topics.
Additionally, Censorship on OTT platforms could also lead to unintended consequences such as self-censorship by creators and platforms, limiting creativity and diversity of content, making access to information more difficult, and also some uncertainty around what will be censored and why.
In conclusion, censorship on OTT platforms can help protect vulnerable individuals, such as children, from harmful or inappropriate content, and it can also help prevent the spread of hate speech and disinformation. It is important to balance these concerns with the need to protect freedom of speech and expression. The solution might be better transparency and communication around censorship decisions, clear and transparent guidelines and processes, and also active community moderation. The question is not whether censorship is good or bad, but how we strike the right balance between protecting vulnerable individuals and allowing free expression.
[i] Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021 https://pib.gov.in/PressReleseDetailm.aspx?PRID=1700749
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this column are that of the writer/ Author. The facts and opinions expressed here do not reflect the views of www.abhidhvajlawjournal.)