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Business News/ Industry / Media/  Streaming skittish as regulation looms
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Streaming skittish as regulation looms

Platform executives and content creators termed this a departure from the previous stance of allowing self-regulation, but not entirely unexpected given that web shows occasionally cross the line.

While bigger entities like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video mostly play it safe, some like ALTBalaji and Ullu continue to dish out adult content. (Mint)Premium
While bigger entities like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video mostly play it safe, some like ALTBalaji and Ullu continue to dish out adult content. (Mint)

NEW DELHI : Streaming apps that have enjoyed freedom of content for long have turned wary after the government’s stated displeasure on obscene content and abusive language.

On 19 March, Minister of Information and Broadcasting Anurag Thakur said, “These platforms were given freedom for creativity, not obscenity," adding the government will not back down from taking necessary action against them. Platform executives and content creators termed this a departure from the previous stance of allowing self-regulation, but not entirely unexpected given that web shows occasionally cross the line.

They also expect an increase in consumer complaints as some international shows streaming in India don’t necessarily follow local guidelines. Further, while bigger entities like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video mostly play it safe, some like ALTBalaji and Ullu continue to dish out adult content.

“Post the controversy around shows like Tandav in 2021, everyone had toned things down, but there is a sense that some platforms, under revenue pressure, are pushing adult content. In a scenario where they can’t spend much, they know that bold scenes or explicit language will bring viewership," said a senior content producer making several web shows.

For Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Disney+ Hotstar, though, clean, wholesome programming makes more sense as they increasingly target mass-market, family audiences, an executive at a streaming platform said on condition of anonymity.

Another executive at a streaming platform agreed that most services are being careful and avoiding trouble. “We’ve recently received emails to keep updating the ministry on consumer complaints we receive. Plus, some of these are directed against international content that platforms stream, that are obviously not made keeping Indian sentiments in mind," the person added.

In the past, OTT shows such as Tandav, Mirzapur, Ghoul, Leila and Sacred Games have been embroiled in controversies. In 2021, Tandav had become the first OTT show in India to make changes to content after the ministry intervened, with the team issuing an apology for hurting religious and cultural beliefs.

At present, the content on OTT platforms is within the purview of Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, said Siddharth Mahajan, partner at legal firm Athena Legal. “The guidelines give ample leeway to OTT platforms to self-certify content and self-regulate themselves, in so far as content-related issues are concerned. The reason for the proposed change in stance is the feeling within the government that content shown on OTT platforms in general is not being self-regulated by the OTT platforms." There have been recent instances where unsuitable and age-inappropriate content is easily available, especially to children, he said.

Besides, there have been recent issues related to hurting religious and social sentiments and defamation due to content on OTT platforms. To this extent, the government feels that the mandate of self-regulation has failed, Mahajan said.

He added that the recent instance of the Delhi High Court refusing to quash first information reports against TVF, the makers of the series College Romance streaming on SonyLIV, is in contrast to the Kerala High Court judgement of 2022 which refused to entertain a petition against obscenity in Malayalam film Churuli, which as per petitioner violated rules on public order, decency and morality.Considering the nature and gamut of content being shown on OTT platforms, it is clear that the government is not looking solely at self-regulation and in fact, wants to regulate this space itself, said Mehak Khanna, partner, Khaitan & Khaitan. “These rules, however, have received pushback from the industry, as being opposed to freedom of speech and expression, and have been embroiled in cases pending in various courts including the Bombay, Madras and Kerala high courts. It is to be seen how the judiciary eventually interprets these IT Rules and to what extent the government gets involved in regulating this sector," Khanna said.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lata Jha
Lata Jha covers media and entertainment for Mint. She focuses on the film, television, video and audio streaming businesses. She is a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism. She can be found at the movies, when not writing about them.
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Published: 04 Apr 2023, 12:01 AM IST
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