Successful Campaign : Indian Govt To Revise IT Act, Regulate OTT, online news platforms

Indian Govt To Revise IT Act, Regulate OTT, online news platforms

11 Nov 2020

On 27 May 2020,#CensorWebSeries trended on Twitter. Mobile and digital news portal Medianama reported then that it “seems like a concerted campaign… [with] more than 65,000 mentions today alone. The accounts receiving the most engagement under the trend so far are right wing organisations like the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti; Hindu nationalist publishers’ group Sanatan Prabhat, and several individuals with bios along the same lines.”

It seems the disparate protests have borne fruit, with a government order bringing all online content under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (I&B). The notification specified that “films and audio-visual programmes made available by online content providers” and “news and current affairs content on online platforms” would be under the ministry’s ambit. This was done by amending the Government of India (Allocation of Business) Rules, 1961 under the powers conferred by Article 77(3) of the Constitution (which gives the President power to change rules for convenient business transactions for the government). The changes will see immediate effect.

Source : Livemint

With the availability of cheaper, faster and easier access to the World Wide Web (the internet), India has taken great strides in taking a large chunk of the population ‘online’. A whopping 67% of this online population is under the age of 40; 14% being below the age of 15. This entire population is exposed to a plethora of content – educational, inspirational, controversial, objectionable, even downright illegal; all this – often free and unrestricted. Of these, lately, OTT (over-the-top streaming platforms) or simply ‘streaming media’ have taken the country by storm.

From one service in 2008, India has seen a spurt of these streaming platforms over the last decade, to about 40 platforms worth about 3000 Crores today. This growth is simply due to ‘greater freedom in choosing content’ and ‘lack of any regulation’. This translates into greater inclusion of uncouth language, copious amount of nudity and violence. For example while ‘major’ streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime have aired shows that had nudity written into the script, there are other streaming platforms like Fliz which serve pornographic content without any accountability. Apart from this everything that is held sacred in India – family values, marital relations, societal wellbeing, cultural values, patriotism; are being systematically targeted and reduced to something of ridicule as was seen from the outrage against web series Sacred Games, Laila and Patal Lok. This is an alarming development as the youth of this nation will grow up with the idea that nothing that this nation has to offer is of any value.

Bihar CM Nitish Kumar requests PM for censorship on OTT platform airing ‘inappropriate’ content

Bihar CM Nitish Kumar has written to PM Modi to take appropriate action to bring streaming platforms under censorship. In a recent letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Nitish Kumar has written that as the content on OTT platforms is not censored, viewers have unrestricted access to content high on obscenity, sex and violence. It is harming the minds of the viewers. Kumar demanded in his letter that the series and films streamed on these platforms should be brought under censorship so that the inappropriate content is not accessible by the viewers. He added that airing such content has a deep impact on the children and exposure to such content for in the long term can lead to social problems that include crime against children and women. Kumar has also referred to the ban on pornographic websites. Read More

Webseries insulting religious and national sentiment and promoting vulgarity

While mature minds can be trusted to use their discretion while consuming the material that they are exposed to over the internet, it is the young and impressionable minds that we have to look out for. These OTT platforms offer content without any checks and balances to ensure that violent or sexual content is not made available to minors. These are a few examples of the content that is available to all –

1. Gandii Baat (available on ALT Balaji and ZEE5) : Features sexually explicit scenes and themes like incest and rape.

2. Game of Thrones (Netflix) : Extreme acts of violence and torture, viewers are subject to nudity, death and extreme acts of sexual nature. The show has a record count for number of characters murdered, with over 3500 murdered in the concluding season of the web series.

3. Sacred Games (Netflix) : Negative portrayal of Hinduism and Hindu culture; portrayal of the ancient Guru-Shishya relation as a homosexual relationship. Read More

4. Laila (Netflix) : Series showing Hinduism in negative light with almost Nazi-like portrayal of a future ‘Hindu’ government. Read More

5. Paatal Lok (Amazon Prime) : Derogatory references to Sikhs, Gorkhas and other communities. Defamatory portrayal of Hinduism. Read More

6. Code M (Amazon Prime) : This series shows the Indian Army in poor light. The Indian Army is shown to be indulging in nepotism, castism, corruption, murders and fake encounters targetting a particular community. Every episode maligns the whole institution of the Armed Forces.

‘The makers of the show thank and salute all officers and soldiers of the Indian Army for their selfless service to the nation’ – this is the closing slide to the web series Code M created and produced by Juggernaut Productions for ALT Balaji and ZEE5. If this is the only thing you see, you can be forgiven for reaching out to your wallet to pay and watch the series. The 8 episode web series however spares no effort to malign the Indian Army. Yes you read that right.

From a caste obsessed Rajput senior officer who ‘tackles’ the ‘problem’ of his daughter dating a ‘lower caste’ officer, to homosexuality, to nepotism, and cronyism – the series tries to cram every evil it can come up with into 8 episodes. And yes, we have the liberal favourite themes of ‘innocent Muslims painted as terrorists’ and ‘the Army conducts fake encounters and also undertakes elaborate steps to cover them up’ forming the main theme of the series. Even the series is introduced as an ‘investigation [of] the case brings forth several revelations which sends ripples through the entire Indian Army’. So much for ‘thanks and salutes’. If this is the way Juggernaut, ALT Balaji and ZEE5 express gratitude, we are better off with enemies who openly criticise the Indian Army. At least they don’t put on a facade of admiring the Army while backstabbing them.

What we fail to understand is that while there is so much material that the makers could have drawn upon, they seem to have been driven by some unseen force to malign the Indian Army. They could have shown that the Army

  • has started schools for local children in Jammu and Kashmir,
  • has saved and sheltered the locals during multiple calamities
  • has suffered losses and yet continues to guard the locals against militants
  • has prepared motorable roads to ensure the locals are not cut off from the rest of the nation

And what does the Army get in return? Stone pelting. Locals willingly acting as bait to lure the army men into ambushes. Lone wolf attacks. This is never shown, even though it it is the truth. Why?

7. XXX 2 (ALT Balaji) : Morally corrupt as the series is, this time around ALT Balaji has stooped to a new low. A new season of its show X.X.X Uncensored shows a Lieutenant Colonel’s wife seducing her civilian doctor (saying that the husband is only interested in his drinks and spending time with fellow officers), dressing him up in her husband’s uniform and then spanking him in a role-play (where she addresses the doctor as her husband). She rips open the uniform shirt too. Later it turns out that the woman is the doctor’s mother-in-law. The Armed forces represent the epitome of Sacrifice. The army men themselves wear their uniform with pride as it signifies their willingness to sacrifice a comfortable family life and even sacrifice themselves to protect the nation. Innumerable men and women have died protecting the dignity of the uniform. The uniform is not a prop to be used in sexual role play, ALT Balaji ! Read More

8. Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj (Netflix) : A ‘comedy show’ which focuses on various issues, and has repeatedly shown India, her culture, her politics, her leaders in poor and often defamatory light. Read More

How are the OTT platforms exploiting our laws for profit ?

These OTT platforms do not come under the ambit of the Cinematograph Act – so there are no provisions to contain the violations of law or guidelines which are to be followed by the moviemakers and on the basis of which the Central Board of Film Certification grants sanction or suggests cuts in the movie. While movie trailers (less than 2 minutes in length) or movie posters have to be approved by the CBFC to be displayed to the public, but the OTT platforms openly share violent, criminal, defamatory, derogatory and titillating content without any certification. The Cable Television (Regulation) Act 1995 also does not cover these OTT platforms.

So to sum up, there is no regulation, which is amply exploited by the OTT platforms. Each certification necessitates a fee which is collected by the relevant authority, but since these web-series are not required to be certified, the Government is suffering from a loss of revenue. Besides this, almost every web series shows the characters smoking cigarettes and consuming other intoxicating substances. However, none of these scenes carries the mandatory message against the consumption of tobacco or alcohol. Cinemas and TV shows are mandated by law to display a message explaining the ill effects of tobacco and alcohol, and since the OTT platforms are not bound by any regulation, they are free to influence the minds of viewers and push them towards tobacco, alcohol or even hard drugs.

Demand for Censoring Web Series

So we earnestly request you to take this matter up seriously in public interest and

1. Make necessary amendments in the relevant Acts such as the Cinematograph Act 1952 or Cable Television (Regulation) Act 1995 forthwith – if necessary kindly pass an Ordinance.

2. Institute a regulatory authority for Online Streaming Platforms (akin to the Central Board of Film Certification) which will be entrusted with certifying all content that will be pushed through over-the-top media services (OTT platforms).

3. Make all the companies producing these web-series/episodes to pay necessary charges to the Government by way of GST or such any other levy.

4. Initiate necessary civil/criminal proceedings at relevant places using the relevant clauses of the Indian Penal Code and the Information Technology Act (2000).

We are hopeful that the Hon’ble Minister will take appropriate measures at the earliest and ensure that OTT platforms will be held accountable for the content they disseminate and who they serve.

Complaint registered against these Webseries

While film and TV certification bodies already moderate public content in India, the country’s laws do not allow censorship of content on the increasingly popular online streaming platforms. Several court cases and complaints filed to the police in recent months, alleging that some content was obscene or insulted religious sentiment.

A BJP MLA, Nandkishore Gurjar, has filed a complaint against producer Anushka Sharma, for using his picture without his permission. Gurjar has also found problems with the show’s content, and has called it ‘anti-national’. In his complaint, the MLA from Uttar Pradesh’s Loni has said that Paatal Lok shows castes in Sanatan Dharma in a negative light, according to an Hindustan Times report.

The All Arunachal Pradesh Gorkha Youth Association filed its complaint online with the National Human Right Commission (NHRC) against Anushka Sharma’s production Paatal Lok for an alleged racial and sexist slur made against the community in the web series, as reported by First Post.

Sri Gurung, a member of the Lawyers Guild sent a legal notice to Sharma for the remarks. Gurung had said in his legal notice that the word is insulting towards the Nepali community. “There is a clip wherein during an interrogation a lady police officer uses a casteist slur on a Nepali character. There wouldn’t have been any problem had only ‘Nepali’ been used. But the word that follows it is unacceptable.

The Bharatiya Gorkha Yuva Parisangh (BhaGoYuP), the youth wing of Bharatiya Gorkha Parisangh, has also started an online petition. The alleged Nepali slur has been used against a woman character whose name suggests she belongs to the Khasi community of Meghalaya, said the online petition.

“Nepali is one of the 22 scheduled languages and there are 10.5 million people in India who speak Nepali as the common tongue. The Gorkha community is the largest Nepali speaking community and this is a direct insult to the community,” the Bharatiya Gorkha Yuva Parisangh said, as reported by India TV.

Manjinder Singh Sirsa, former Akali Dal MLA and Delhi Sikh Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee president, tweeted that the series must be banned for maligning ‘religious harmony’. Referring to a rape scene in the series, he said: “Sikhs are Saviours of women. The whole world recognises Sikhs for their Sewa and Humanity but shame on @AnushkaSharma @PrimeVideoIN for showing Sikhs as Rapists”.

He urged the Information & Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar to take action against all online channels that were ‘maligning Sikhs and other communities.’ He also warned Amazon Prime that he will take legal action if they do not pull down the show.

Manjinder Singh Sirsa earlier had called for a ban on Netflix’s Sacred Games for hurting the religious feelings of Sikhs. This was in connection to a scene in which SaiF Ali Khan’s character throws a ‘kada’ into the sea. He had threatened to sue the makers of the series, including Anurag Kashyap if the scene was not deleted, as reported by The Week.

Delhi spokesperson for the BJP, Tajinder Singh Bagga, has filed a police complaint against filmmaker Anurag Kashyap for “intentionally hurting Sikh sentiments by adding a scene which disrespects Sikh religious symbol Kada” in the second season of the Netflix series, Sacred Games.

PIL was filed in Bombay High Court, Nagpur bench by advocate Divya Gontia against web series ‘GandiBaat’, which airs on ALTBalaji, along with other popular web series like Sacred Games on Netflix claiming that they are too obscene and should have a pre- screening along the lines of the censor board for web series. The PIL said “The screening of pornographic contents, vulgar gestures and talks are overriding the Indian culture and morality”, as reported by News18.

Ramesh Solanki, a member of Shiv Sena IT Cell, has filed a police complaint against Netflix alleging that the US-based online streaming service is “defaming Hindus and India” through shows hosted on its platform, as reported by The New Indian Express. His complaint listed Netflix series Sacred Games, Leila, standup acts by Hasan Minhaj, and Ghoul for painting an “incorrect picture of Hindus and India globally.”