India plans to censor OTT video content after recent controversy

OTT content Tandav
Amazon Prime Video series Tandav - image courtesy Amazon Prime

India is planning to develop content guidelines for over-the-top (OTT) video streaming platforms like Netflix and Disney + Hotstar following a controversy over Amazon Prime Video’s recent Indian original series ‘Tandav’. The program allegedly showed inappropriate depiction of Hindu deities and were hurtful to the sentiments of Hindus, the majority community in India.

India’s Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (MIB), which is also the nodal ministry for content on digital platforms, is reportedly working on “specific legislative changes” to pre-censor the OTT content in the country. It is already doing consultations with top officials from three different ministries.

“The process has been consultative so far, but repeated controversies around content shown by the OTTs have forced the government to reassert its position on some control over the sector that has been completely unregulated till now,” a senior Indian government official was quoted as saying by the Economic Times.

Notably, India’s Supreme Court last week accepted a petition to pre-censor OTT content after several police complaints were filed across five states against the makers and actors of Tandav web series and another older Amazon Prime video series “Mirzapur”, which is named after Uttar Pradesh’s city called Mirzapur.

The creators and actors of Tandav web series have already issued a public apology and have decided to remove the objectionable portions. Interestingly, there are at least 45 cases in Indian courts regarding OTT video content.

The ministry had previously rejected a “self-regulation” framework proposed by the OTT players through their representative body, the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) due to lack of a “comprehensive complaint redressal system” and absence of a third-party monitoring mechanism, as per media reports.

The IAMAI introduced the last framework in September 2020. It was endorsed by 16 OTT content providers including Netflix, Hotstar, Zee5 and Voot and Amazon Prime Video, which didn’t agree to the first framework introduced in 2019.

The senior official told the publication that the Indian government expects the industry to develop a sustainable model that can “address the complaints from not just viewers but also what the courts are asking of us.”

Other government sources told the publication that the Indian government wants a “non-partisan two-tier structure” with civil society representatives.

However, OTT players believe that such a structure would impact creativity and impose self-censorship in content makers, thereby impacting the growth of the nascent industry in the country. They are now preparing another framework which they will soon submit to the ministry in the wake of the ‘Tandav’ controversy.

Vani Tripathi Tikoo, Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) member, separately told Hindustan Times newspaper that “the lens of film certification should not be used for OTT platforms in India. “Theatre viewing is a collective exercise, and watching OTT is more personalised.”

“…United Kingdom, Singapore, even some European countries have some kind of code and industry standard put together for digital content. You cannot dissociate from that responsibility in a hypersensitive democracy like India,” Tikoo added.

There are around 400 million OTT (over-the-top media) users out of which 300 million come from telco partnerships, as per BofA global research’s latest report. It added that India’s paid OTT subscriber base stands at 15 million.

 “In our view, the top 100 million users – predominantly English ones are the addressable market for foreign OTTs like Netflix and Disney+.”

Related article: Now streaming services, online news and content in India to be regulated

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