Digital platforms have seen exponential growth over past few months, mostly because of the ongoing pandemic that has forced people to stay at home and seek entertainment inside the premises of their own houses. However, they also faced a setback when the Indian government rejected a proposal for self-regulation of content online.
After 15 digital platforms signed a self-regulation code for content streaming online, the ministry for information ad broadcasting wrote a letter asking the code itself to be re-framed. In September, Netflix, ZEE 5, SonyLiv, Viacom’s
The Indian government, however, wrote to Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) asking for an alternate code. The ministry objected to a lack of a third party involvement in the advisory panel (the current draft suggests forming a body from among the content providers itself unlike the previous suggestion for the Digital Curated Content Complaints Council.
A final word on the regulation and/or censorship is yet to come, but those in the business of providing curated content online view it as a clear negative effect on their earnings and subscriptions.
Calling censorship “an attendant evil to the broader adoption of a platform”, VC of Saregama Films and Events Siddharth Anand Kumar says “As OTT is getting more popular and becoming a mass medium, there needs to be an onus placed upon makers and businesses to adhere to certain norms of civility but it is a slippery slope. Stories are a reflection of our life and times, and excessive censorship makes them seem fake and unreal, which drives audiences away due to a lack of authenticity. I’ve always felt that proper certification and even “trigger warnings” are a much better way to protect the interests of business as well as the creative community and audiences.”
Insisting that excessive censorship or self-regulation may viewers to move beyond such platforms, he adds, that no business “would want this attrition”.
Ullu app’s Vibhu Agarwal also objects to the idea of censorship and says, “The fact that creators and artists have this one place where they can be unabashed, uncensored, and unapologetic not only gives them creative freedom but also helps revolutionizing content and this can be very well seen in the way the audiences have accepted the content world over.”
Viacom18 Digital COO Gourav Rakshit, who is also on the IAMAI panel, however, has a different point of view. He says that viewers would not mind a classification of content available on platforms. With three successful ventures (VOOT, VOOT Select and VOOT Kids), Mr Rakshit also assures that audience may not drift away from platforms just because there is age-appropriate classification of content.
Salient features of the current draft of the self-regulatory code
1. The signatories to this Code will not make available the following categories of content through their services to users:
a) Content which promotes and encourages disrespect to the sovereignty and integrity of India;
b) Content which represents a child engaged in real or simulated sexual activities or any representation of the sexual parts of a child for primarily sexual purposes;
c) Content which promotes and encourages terrorism and other forms of violence against the State (of India) or its institutions; and
d) Content that has been banned for exhibition or distribution by online video service under applicable laws or by any court of competent jurisdiction.
2.The signatories to this Code seek to protect the consumers’ ability to choose content that they may deem to be appropriate for their viewing. The objective is to use information to equip consumers with requisite knowledge and awareness, to enable consumers to make informed decisions on the consumption of content. A key component of empowering consumers to make such informed decisions lies in providing them with information about the types of content available, themes contained within, age classification, etc.
3. The signatories will also classify content for age, and specify the language, violence and sex depicted in each product.
Will the code help create an atmosphere of fearless creativity?
The business aspect aside, unregulated content in India often attracts opposition from small factions of the society. Only recently, we saw how the release of Dylan Mohan Gray’s Netflix documentary Bad Boy Billionaires India had to be stalled following multiple cases filed across India. Even when it found its way online, one of the four stories could not be released. The documentary has been receiving wide critical acclaim ever since the premiere.
Will the new regulations protect makers of such well-researched and hard-hitting content? Will the self-regulation or censorship bring any relief to the content providers in matters like these? Possibly not.