OTT – A LAWLESS PLATFORM

Several filmmakers shifted to OTT platforms because of the freedom and the variety of content on offer. But that freedom of content often invites criticism. Tandav is just one example. Popular series such as Sacred Games, Leila, A Suitable Boy and Mirzapur among several others have invited complaints in the past. Most have ended up in court cases[1].

WHAT IS OTT PLATFORM?

OTT or Over The Top platform is a streaming media service offered directly to viewers via the Internet. OTT bypasses cable, broadcast, and satellite television platforms, the companies that traditionally act as a controller or distributor of such content. There are many OTT platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, Sony Liv, Zee 5, etc. These OTT platforms have become very popular in a very short period.

WHY OTT GAINED POPULARITY IN INDIA?

1. INCREASED INTERNET USERS – Since the whole of the world is connected via the internet, anything can be reached to billions of people within seconds. India saw a major increase in the number of mobile internet users since the launch of Jio. This was a great opportunity for the companies to launch OTT service in India as it was pretty successful in the Western Countries. Within a year of the launch of these OTT platforms, India became one of the largest viewers of OTT throughout the Globe and contributed to more than 40% of the company’s total revenue.

2. LOW COST FOR USERS – Most of the OTT platforms charge very little as compared to Cinema halls. This was one of the main reasons for Indians loving the OTT platform as most of the Indians want more variety at less cost.

3. LOW COST FOR FILMMAKERS – Filmmakers all over the world want their film to reach a greater audience and at less cost. So OTT was the best option for them. They saved the cost of releasing a film in cinema halls which amounts to a very big amount of money which every producer cannot afford and as a result, films with good content were not reaching a larger audience. Thus OTT was a lifesaver for the filmmakers as a film could now be seen anywhere in the world and at a very reasonable cost for both filmmakers and the audience.

4. CRAZE FOR WEB SERIES– Soon after the launch of OTT platforms in India, the Indian Youth started liking the concept of Web series as it was quite different from a 2-hour film, each web series consisted of episodes that were connected which made it interesting than a 2-hour film. Due to the love for web series, many Indian web series were loved by Indians and the world such as FAMILY MAN, PAATAL LOK, SCAM 1992, Etc and were critically acclaimed.

5. NON-CENSORED CONTENT – OTT platform in India is non – censored because it is not governed by any law. As a result of which many violent and objectionable scenes are shown (which if released in a cinema hall would have been censored). Most people are happy with the non-censorship of these scenes as they believe that these scenes are showing the reality of our world and censorship of such scenes would reduce the impact of any film/series.

WHAT ARE THE LAWS REGULATING OTT PLATFORMS?

So far in India, no laws or rules are regulating OTT platforms as it is a relatively new medium of entertainment. Unlike television, print, or radio, which follow guidelines released by the government. These OTT platforms are free to show anything to the audience without even getting a certification (as required for the theatre release of a film). They can charge anything as subscription rates, show adult content without getting anyone’s approval, and whatnot. But recently after a lot of debates and discussions about the content being shown on these platforms, the Government of India brought these OTT platforms under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. As per reports, the Government will now draft some rules for the OTT platform about the content being shown. Only time will tell whether this will lead to censorship or not.

The change was made through the amendment of Allocation of Business Rules and announced through a gazette notification dated November 9, 2020, by the Cabinet secretariat. The amendment brought “film and audiovisual programs by online content providers” and “news and current affairs content on online platforms” under the ministry of information and broadcasting’s domain for regulation[2].

As far as western countries such as the USA, UK are concerned there is no such law regarding OTT but they follow a Self-Regulatory policy in which all the OTT platforms form their laws because of government and public interest.

The adult content which is being shown on OTT is liked by millions of users because of which OTT is successful in India and the world. The censorship of this content would mean that people will reduce watching OTT. It is due to this reason that OTT self-regulatory policy is considered the best suitable for it.

REASONS FOR REGULATING OTT CONTENT:

1. DISTURBING CONTENT – According to a group of people, some of the OTT content is disturbing for children and even adults which impacts their mental health due to which a lot of behavioral changes take place in that person. In today’s world we know the importance of being mentally fit, this will happen only if we are surrounded by positivity and not negativity; and according to scientists what we look at visually on a screen impacts our mind to a very great extent which can prove to be harmful to some people.

2. SHOWING SOCIETY IN BAD LIGHT – Some OTT films or series show our society in a bad light due to which an image is created in the minds of viewers that people of such society behave as shown in the OTT platform. For example, Asian countries are shown as inferior and poor as compared to western countries. Asians are depicted as uncivilized and violent people whereas western people are depicted as civilized and non-violent. This leads to discrimination and the whole world considers the west as the best.

3. SPREADING HATRED– We have seen in many OTT films/series, violence is shown to be caused by one particular community or religion which impacts the mind of the audience and creates a negative belief about that community in some corner of his/her mind.

4. DISRESPECT OF ARMED FORCES – We have seen some OTT films/series disrespecting the Indian Armed forces in one way or another. For example, in a Netflix film titled “Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl,” it was shown that the Indian Air Force discriminated between male and female pilots which were not true at all. When this issue gained media attention and also when the IAF objected to certain scenes that depicted the Air Force in a bad light; surprisingly no scene was removed as there was no law but simply, a disclaimer was added at the start of the film. Another example is of a yet to release the film on Netflix titled “AK vs AK”. In the trailer of this film Actor, Anil Kapoor who is playing a character of an Indian Air Force officer has inaccurately donned the uniform of the Indian Air Force and is speaking unparliamentary language while in uniform, which is utter disrespect to our armed forces. In this case, also, the actor and Netflix issued an apology but no scene will be removed according to Netflix.

CONCLUSION

There is a need for some regulating mechanism for OTT in India. The viewers of OTT will never be happy with censorship but a content regulating mechanism is a need of the hour. Here are some suggestions to regulate the OTT content:-

There should not be any scene that spreads hatred among individuals or shows disturbing content. Every scene should be subject to certain decency. This is because any such scene can have such an impact on an individual that an individual can lose his mental balance and may turn into a criminal.

Armed forces must not be disrespected at any cost. Any such scene which does so must be removed immediately. Simply giving a disclaimer at the starting of the film/series does not mean that our Armed forces be disrespected. Any filmmaker which does so will have to face legal consequences.

There should be some restrictions on sexual and soft porn content being shown on these platforms. This type of content encourages crimes such as molestation and even rape. Therefore regulating is a must in this case. There should be self-regulation by these OTT companies. If not, the law has to step in by hook or by crook.

Lastly, the government should impose heavy fines on these OTT companies for showing objectionable content. This will lead to a more strict and strong self-regulatory policy of these platforms and as a result, the objectionable content will reduce gradually from the web.

Since OTT is the most popular platform nowadays, the OTT companies should follow the concept of “Decency” while making a film or web series. A film/web series with good content and decency will be loved by the audience and as a result, good vibes and positivity will reach the entire world instead of violence and hatred. In times like these where we are facing a pandemic, all we need is positivity and OTT is the best platform to promote positivity if used correctly.

References:
1. https://theprint.in/opinion/newsmaker-of-the-week/for-ott-platforms-in-india-tandav-blurs-the-line-between-self-regulation-and-censorship/590600/

2. Govt to regulate OTT, online news platforms – india news – Hindustan Times

About the author –
This article is authored by Anshul Bajaj, 4th year Law student at Rayat Bahra University, Mohali

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