How far is the censorship of entertainment platforms justified

A list of prohibited content is imposed, then that will lead to self-censorship and undermine creative expression

The entry of new players in the OTT arena has led to the growth of streaming platforms.
The entry of new players in the OTT arena has led to the growth of streaming platforms.

By Sanjeev K Kumar

We are living in an era of entertainment on the go. With the rise of platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney+ Hotstar, and Zee Prime, to name a few, we have a wide variety of content at our fingertips. However, lately, these over-the-top (OTT) platforms have been facing the ire of the Indian government, on censorship of content.

Ever since the OTT platforms have been brought within the purview of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) by the government, there have been rising concerns in the streaming sector that curbs will be introduced by the Ministry on the OTT content through its own set of rules and regulations. But the question looming in everybody’s mind is how far is the curtailment of entertainment forms justified?

OTT: Is Censorship Required?

As against TV channels, OTT platforms have for now greater creative freedom as there is no regulation over it currently. So, with the fear of regulation looming large, content creators are particularly worried as that will severely impact the growth of the segment. What has further aggravated that fear is the MIB outright rejected a self-regulation code which was formulated by the OTT players themselves under the aegis of IAMAI. With the self-regulation code rejected, the IAMAI committee will be coming out with another one in its place – called the ‘implementation code’.

The entry of new players in the OTT arena has led to the growth of these platforms at a breakneck speed, backed by huge content investments which are running into millions by the likes of Amazon Prime, Hotstar, Voot, Netflix, Alt Balaji among others.

As per a PwC report, India currently is the fastest-growing market for OTT video, growing at a CAGR of 28.6%, and is projected to become the sixth-largest OTT market with revenue touching $2.9 billion by 2024.

According to Factly, the Indian Film industry is the largest, making around 1250 feature films and an even much larger number of short films every year. While censorship came into action recently due to few controversial web series, filmmakers have raised a further question on the freedom of creativity.

Censorship of Entertainment

Over the top (OTT) media services are offered directly to viewers and audience with the help of the internet and are a streaming media service that has overtaken platforms like satellite, DTH, cable, etc. The content provided by OTT platforms running in India like Netflix, Voot, Hotstar, Amazon Prime, etc does not have any regulatory body to control the streaming content and so the viewers and makers are enjoying the freedom.

We have a huge pool of people who enjoy all kinds of content. However, some content has been hurting the sensibility of sections and therefore the government has felt the need to bring in some changes and chop off the not-so-suitable clips from movies and OTT. One of the main reasons stated for censoring the content is to maintain the medium of films which should be responsible and sensitive to the values and standards of people living in the society. The purpose should not deviate and move towards unhealthy entertainment and censorship makes sure that the content is clean and as far as possible, it should add a good form of entertainment, aesthetic value and displays a good standard, cinematically.

However, in times of a global pandemic when all of us are going through some form of health and emotional stress, limiting entertainment options does not seem to be the best choice for dealing with the freedoms of individuals. The entertainment industry players are constantly worried that the new and upcoming regulations might not just concern strong language, nudity, violence, and drugs in OTT web series and other online content. It is argued that the content provided by online streaming services is not broadcast to the world – rather it is pulled from the internet and is meant to be viewed privately. People have the option to tailor their content and watch what they like. Hence, for this reason, online entertainment ought not to be subjected to the same conditions and rules applied to television broadcasts.

In this scenario, all platforms agree that they must carry and display strict age and content descriptors as well as mechanisms to control access (such as child locks), and the majority already have these in place. These are tried and tested norms followed globally. But if a list of prohibited content is imposed, then that will lead to self-censorship and undermine creative expression.

OTT platforms have revolutionized how we consume different genres of content for our entertainment. They have been like a breath of fresh air amongst a sea of shows and movies that used to revolve around the most outdated topics. If censorship is allowed, then expect the streamed content to become mediocre, sanitized, and uninspiring. The essence of the term OTT is Over the top and if regular content is churned out by the OTT players, there would be no disruption in the entertainment market. A whole new genre of Films, content, and filmmakers have emerged from the rise of the OTT platforms in the West, as it gives great freedom to experiment with content. Will censorship curtail freedom or will freedom be used as a wrong tool. A decision has to be made between the devil and the deep blue sea because the parameters of clean entertainment are a million-dollar question.

The author is CEO and founder of Kuberan’s House. Views expressed are personal.

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First published on: 27-03-2021 at 10:16 IST