The Impact of Censorship Rules On OTT Platforms In India

Over-the-top (OTT) content platforms have grown in popularity over the decade. With theaters closed due to the COVID 19-led Lockdown, OTT services like Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, Hotstar, and many more witnessed a 30% increase in paid members. These platforms are recognized for offering a wide library of new, unique, and diversified content, as well as out-of-the-box stories, for an affordable monthly or yearly fee.


However, despite the upbeat prognosis for the Indian video OTT business, the government has issued new restrictions that may put a damper on streaming sites.

The proposed three-tier structure, known as the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021, attempted to control and hold OTT video streaming services, social media outlets, and digital content producers more responsible within the Indian legal framework.

It must be stated that one of the primary reasons for monitoring these platforms is to guarantee that parental controls are in place for content that is inappropriate for minors.

But the issue on everyone's mind is how far is the restriction of entertainment forms warranted. Furthermore, is control of OTT services and content even necessary? In this article, we will strive to address all of these issues while also analyzing the new laws enforced by the government on OTT platforms. But, before we get there, let's look at the benefits and drawbacks of censorship.

There is no regulatory agency in India that regulates the content given by OTT platforms such as Netflix, Voot, Hotstar, Amazon Prime Video, and others, therefore viewers and creators enjoy their freedom.

The Pros & Cons of Censorship

Censorship is frequently perceived negatively and is defined as the suppression of ideas, pictures, or phrases that some people find objectionable in some manner. It occurs whenever personal, moral, or political ideals from one group are imposed on another in any form.

With that stated, there are various advantages to censorship that could not be overlooked, some of which are mentioned below:

The Pros of Censorship

1. Potentially Reduce Hate Speech In The Society

The notion that all speech is equal is contested. There are terms that individuals employ in an attempt to silence the right of everyone to speak. Due to the prevalence of hate speech, it took more than a century for minorities and women to achieve a semblance of equal treatment. Even if it is cloaked in the concepts of religious freedom, state sovereignty, or patriotism, it remains what it is to others.

Censorship allows us to put a stop to this hatred before it begins. We are already constrained by education, family, entertainment, commerce, and other factors. This constraining process opens up additional options for equality.

2. Protect Children From Consuming Harmful Content

In today's world, parents have a lot of work to do to safeguard their children from negative influences. There is media everywhere, including things that get past parental controls and kid-friendly applications, which might lead to hazardous experiences in the future.

Censorship enables us to cut through all the ignoring of possible risks, preventing a child's inexperience and lack of forethought from getting them into harm. With the help of specific constraints, we may keep everybody safer by halting adults before they act (or the child responds) to a scenario.

3. Provide An Added Layer of Security To The Country’s Global Image

Censorship may also prove to be useful while limiting the quantity of information that the ordinary population receives from their government, corporations, and huge organizations on a daily basis. Without this approach, top-secret files might be made public by making a simple request. Because of the requirement for disclosure, patented substances would not be available. There is less risk of harm if some sorts of data are removed from society's primary flow.

The Cons of Censorship

1. Oppresses The Minority In Favour of the Masses

When people witness violence in video games, read about it in literature, or witness instances of it in film or television, they frequently ask for censorship. The fact of fictional violence is that it does not suddenly make previously stable individuals want to harm someone. If we start restricting material based on the acts of unstable people, nothing will be immune from censorship.

2. Decreases The IQ of The Public

Censorship necessitates that the information being released be subjected to strict restrictions in order for particular outcomes to be achieved every time. It is an attempt to keep people from finding the truth about any given scenario. Even implying that material is fraudulent or untrustworthy is a technique to promote censorship from an official standpoint.

3. Shifts the Societal Responsibility For Consumption

When the government decides what material people can access, there is no longer any individual responsibility for one's conduct. This process hands over control of ethics, morals, and standards to whoever is in charge of putting these rules into action.

When someone is ready to let another person, corporation, or elected representative teach them how to feel, think, and respond, it becomes much simpler to relinquish greater control over life's choices. Censorship reduces people to commodities rather than persons.

Censorship and the Demise of Creativity

Now that you have an understanding of the pros and cons of censorship, let’s understand why certain filmmakers and content creators are against government regulations on OTT platforms.

The main concern is whether the government is restricting content creators' creative freedom by controlling OTT. Will the moral monitoring of such programs deprive the platform of its distinguishing feature?

The basic idea behind the development of OTT platforms was to provide audiences with unique and diverse material that is not controlled by any government entity. Furthermore, if the same amount of scrutiny is applied to content available on the Internet as it is to satellite TV channels, it is argued that it destroys the creative freedom of the “free” Internet as well.

All of this urges the issue: how significant is the customer to the success of OTT platforms? Because customer interaction is critical to the OTT model, rigorous regulation may interfere with the sort of material end users desire to consume, stifling the industry's growth. Controlled OTT material may also mean missed chances for filmmakers and performers drawn to the medium for the creative flexibility it provides.

Understand The Digital Media Rules

The government published the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules on February 25, 2021, which apply to social media intermediates and also online news publications and online customized content providers, also known as OTTs.

The Digital Media Rules include a self-classification mechanism in which an OTT platform qualifies material for an appropriate age group. According to the guidelines, the only acceptable limits are those that have been interpreted as reasonable limits on freedom of expression under Article 19(2) of the Constitution.

It also promotes the guidelines to deviate from the established rating categories by introducing new ones such as U/A 13+ and U/A 16+. This represents the Indian society's coming of age, in which it seeks to break free from the constraints of being labeled as a conservative country. Finally, the recommendations represent Indian teenagers' and adults' comprehension and maturity.

Finally, the guidelines require a three-tiered grievance redressal procedure. Level 1 includes self-regulation, Level 2 adds self-regulation via an independent self-regulating body, while Level 3 comprises an Inter-Ministerial Committee supervision system. Prior to the establishment of such rules, concerns were expressed through various FIRs filed in various states.

Rather, the formation of a dispute resolution system creates a one-stop shop for the public to submit their problems. Furthermore, the guidelines restrict the Inter-Ministerial Committee's engagement to concerns stemming from lower-level policies, preventing broad State intrusion.

Is There A Need To Regulate Or Censor OTT Platforms?

Digital media has indeed been largely deregulated, allowing content makers total creative license. Increased content intake by the Indian audience led to a tremendous increase in the number of OTT Platforms developed in India, catering to the different sensitivities of the Indian audience.

Nevertheless, this culminated in a slew of scandals, with countless programs, both Indian and international, getting drawn into legal battles on issues such as vulgarity, defamation, offending religious sensitivities, and so on.

The launch of the online series Tandav, which revealed difficulties for both viewers and creators, was a recent example. Specific parts in the show were said to outrage the sensibilities of a certain segment of society. In the dearth of an organized grievance redressal procedure system, members of the public flocked to police stations around the country to file complaints.

This also underlined the disadvantage for the creators of such materials, as they were forced to go from shaft to post in order to defend themselves and were entangled in lengthy legal actions. A pattern was found in which various courts around the country responded differently to the same complaint.

If such standards had been available, the creators would have understood exactly what was permitted and what was not. Furthermore, if the information they created was in accordance with such criteria, they would almost certainly be shielded from any negative action.

As a result of the Digital Media Rules, a compromise has been established between creative innovation and maintaining the interests of the State.

According to a recent PwC research, India is currently the fastest-growing OTT market in the world, on track to become the sixth largest by 2024. Over the following four years, the Indian market is predicted to increase at a CAGR of 28.6%, reaching $2.9 billion in revenue.

Conclusion

Whereas, after the government announced the present guidelines for supervising OTT platforms, the esteemed Supreme Court placed a stay on all OTT regulation applications, we are still waiting to see how these recommendations will be applied.

They will most probably have an impact on the sort of material that is streamed on the platforms. The redressal system developed will undoubtedly aid in addressing public issues without the participation of the courts.

However, it remains to be seen if OTT video streaming firms can withstand the planned regulatory measures as well as continue unabated on their road of expansion.

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