OTT Censorship: Everything You Need To Know

The lack of legislation governing OTTs becomes more obvious with each passing day and with new case made on these grounds.

Over-the-top (OTT) platforms are audio and video hosting and broadcasting services that originated as content serving platforms but quickly evolved to encompass the distribution and production of short films, feature films, documentaries, and web series.

Several OTT platforms with a major presence in the media and entertainment industries have self-censorship restrictions. Netflix does not have its own censorship system, however maturity ratings are displayed at the beginning of each programme. Similarly, Hotstar, Star India’s OTT network, has not created any self-censorship standards and looks to be tolerant to restriction. Game of Thrones was not forbidden due to its explicit content.

In 2016, a complaint was filed in the Delhi High Court alleging that Hotstar distributes “soft pornographic” content and breaches downlinking obligations as an IPTV. Hotstar insisted on becoming an OTT platform, not an IPTV service. Despite the fact that the content available on such sites breaches many laws across the country, the Supreme Court is currently investigating. A fundamental question is whether the platform will be regulated by a self-regulatory authority or whether suitable regulations will be implemented to allow a statutory authority to control and filter the content streaming on such platforms.

Laws Concerning OTT Platform Censorship

The cinematographic act of 1952, coupled with regulations 1983 and recommendations 1991, created the process for the censor board to certify films for display in India. A programme or film shall not be approved for public viewing if any scene or portion of the programme is detrimental to society’s interests. Censorship is exercised by institutions such as the Central Bureau of Film Certification, which was established by the Cinematograph Act of 1952. Section 95 of the CCP grants the ability to declare some periodicals forfeited and to issue search warrants for them.

Need for regulation of content on OTT Platforms

The much more prominent OTT incident involved John Oliver’s Hotstar show, in which he publicly criticised Narendra Modi and CAA, after which the broadcast was blocked on Hotstar. A similar occurrence occurred on Hasan Minaj’s show, which was about the Lok Sabha Elections in 2019, and was highly condemned afterwards. Sacred Games was panned for including some speculative lines about Rajeev Gandhi and discussing the Bofors incident. Leila was chastised for spreading Hinduphobia and offending Hindus. Viewers panned it heavily.

The lack of legislation governing OTTs becomes more obvious with each passing day and with new case made on these grounds. The public and the judiciary are putting pressure on the administration to close this regulatory gap.

There is currently an urgent requirement for an impartial regulatory agency for the screening of film or programme at this time. Internet Content Streaming cannot be managed by a self-regulatory authority. The body must discern between accountable and non-responsible content in order to regulate it. The government and OTT platforms will work together to permanently tackle this issue. The main goal of this project should be clear, whether it is to protect the public or to remedy a regulatory gap. The Intermediary Rules, 2011, must also be remembered, as any violation of the Rules would result in the revocation of their licence.