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Why govt must adopt certification-based regulation for both OTT content and cinema

The Financial Express
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The government is mulling over a censorship regime for the likes of Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Voot, HotStar and other over-the-top (OTT) platforms. A report in The Economic Times suggests that talks of regulating online content were triggered by Hindutva groups' opposition to shows like Leila (Netflix) and The Patriot Act on grounds that they hurt the majority community’s religious sentiment, and further a "Hindu-phobic" propaganda.

How much of this, objectively, is a genuine grievance is debatable. But, OTT content has long been a bone of contention in India, with many petitions filed against content variously labeled "vulgar", "violent" or otherwise inappropriate. The Supreme Court, indeed, had asked of the Centre if there was a need to regulate content on OTT platforms.

While some would argue that OTT platforms have been spared the proverbial censor’s scissors-such platforms being beyond the purview of the Indian Cinematography Act 1952 and the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC)-most OTT platforms are already signatory to a self-regulatory Code of Best Practices, drafted under the aegis of the Internet and Mobile Association of India; it is not very different from the Indian Broadcasting Foundation's Broadcasting Content Complaints Council that regulates cable TV content.

Under this, various platforms stream pre-censored content, even though they are not required to by law. Besides, these platforms come with built-in parental controls and detailed labels for age-appropriateness, thereby allowing users to make informed choices about their viewing preferences.

At a time when the viewer is keen on accessing content that is not limited by "majority community’s sentiments" or other such concerns, trying to police content is an insult to the viewer’s intelligence and undermines the creative freedom of the producers who, in any case, are adhering to a set of broadly accepted standards as defined by the self-regulation code.

Some would argue that if cinema is censored, then why not OTT content? Even if one is to ignore the fact that access to OTT content is nowhere in the same territory as access to cinema, the better route would be move away from censorship for cinema, as the Shyam Benegal committee had suggested, and instead stick to just certification.