CENSORSHIP OF WEB SERIES- PROS & CONS

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Individual engagement in the cyber world is rising as a result of technical advancements. Many individuals watch networks like Hotstar, Zee5, Sony Liv, Prime, and others. In this article, we will attempt to identify and evaluate various existing censorship regulations, as well as provide required suggestions from various OTT platforms in India. In India, censorship remains largely a tool of state involvement, defined and regulated by the law’s boundaries. The state’s job is to rule by establishing and executing public policy. In a democracy, the evolution of public policy is inextricably tied to the satisfaction of citizens’ demands. The media and entertainment industry has experienced a paradigm shift in volume and demand for diversified content via platforms in recent years, and there are several divisions in the industry that merge into a vertical, Movies, Television, Music, Publishing, Radio, Internet, Advertisement, and Gaming segments to access the content, leaving viewers to choose. The media and entertainment sector aspires to be on par with the best-in-class organisations in other industries in terms of organisational quality and benchmarking. The primary improvements are in line with how analysis, budgeting, content production, and distribution management are combined with competent project management.

Keywords: Censorship, Online Content Regulation, and OTT (Over the Top) and Types

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What are OTT platforms?

Over-the-top platforms, also known as audio and video hosting and streaming services, began as content hosting platforms but quickly expanded to include the creation and distribution of short films, feature films, documentaries, and web series.

These platforms offer a wide range of material and employ artificial intelligence to make recommendations based on your prior experiences with the site. The majority of fully paid platforms offer some free material and charge a monthly membership fee for premium content that is not available anywhere else. 30 platforms frequently generate and distribute premium content in conjunction with trendy production companies that have previously produced feature films.

Because OTT platforms are such a new type of entertainment in India, there are no laws or regulations governing them.

Evolution and Rise of OTTs:

The entire notion of visual entertainment began with a few television channels and has now expanded to include mobile phones, personal computers, and Smart TVs.

With people’s lives becoming busy, they need somewhere they can go whenever they want rather than being confined to a certain time in front of the television. We have all been using OTTs without realising it for a long time. The most enticing feature of an OTT is that it can be used and accessed at any time and from any location that has an online connection.

Another enticing feature of these OTT platforms is the huge range of visual material available, which is persuading a rising number of people to use this new technology. Furthermore, this material diversity is enhanced by access to customer data, which means that a user will receive content recommendations based on his preferences or prior movie interests, such as Horror, Sci-Fi, and Action, among others, which is a fantastic feature.

The following graph was created using data from Counterpoint Research’s India OTT Video Content Market Consumer Survey, which was performed in June of 2019.

Types of OTTs:

  • SVOD (Subscription Video on Demand)- It is a type of service that allows a customer to access an entire library of films, original series, and videos for a set monthly fee. This cost will be collected monthly or annually, depending on the customer’s preference. As long as a user’s membership is active, he can view as many films and movies as he likes on the channel to which he has subscribed. Netflix, Hotstar, Zee5, and Amazon Prime Video are some of the SVOD OTT providers available.
  • TVOD (transactional video on demand)- TVOD is the polar opposite of subscription video, in which viewers pay per watch for content. Electronic sell-through (EST), in which you pay once for permanent access to a piece of material, and download to rent (DTR), in which consumers access a piece of content for a short period for a lower cost, are the two sub-categories.[1]

TVOD providers tend to offer more current releases, resulting in more income for rights holders and faster access to new material for viewers. Customers are generally retained by TVOD providers by providing appealing pricing incentives, which encourage them to return in the future.

  • AVOD (Ad-supported Video on Demand)- Ad-Supported Video on Demand (AVOD) is a free digital video service supported by advertisements. In this approach, ad income is utilised to offset production and hosting costs as well as to monetize content. YouTube, Dailymotion, Sling TV, Roku, and Fubo TV are examples of this sort of OTT service.[2]

The Evolution of the Censorship Concept in India:

We have all seen blurred photos of a victim in the media, a silent or “beep” sound in specific film moments, a book being banned, age limits in seeing a movie at the theatre, and an artwork being unpublished for offending a certain community’s feelings. All of these are examples of censorship in action. “According to Merriam Webster, censorship is the suppression of speech, public communication, or other information on the grounds that the content is deemed unwanted, harmful, sensitive, or “inconvenient.” Censorship is the removal or containment of content that has the potential to cause societal upheaval.

Films have always been a strong kind of art that has served to bring to light a lot of material that has been buried in the dark. Due to its diversity, India’s cinema industry is recognised as the most popular way of connecting with people, with each language having its own representation. It has served as a means of disseminating a message or idea to the public. We have progressed from street plays to motion pictures, colour images, TV channels, cassettes, and DVDs to internet streaming and the use of over-the-top (OTT) services.

Article 19 (1) (a) of the Indian Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and expression, whereas article 19 (2) limits it in a reasonable way.

Nothing in clause (1), subclause (a), affects the operation of any existing law or prevents the State from enacting new legislation insofar as such legislation imposes reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred by the said subclause in the interests of India’s sovereignty and integrity, security, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, and public safety. This was the impetus for our system’s censoring restrictions to be implemented.[3]

Because of its broad scope, the Supreme Court believes that censorship is necessary. Regardless of age, the manner a film is presented has an influence on the general public. Films serve as a platform for people to express themselves in whichever way they want, as permitted by Article 19 (1) (a) of our Constitution. This platform should not be compared to reading a magazine, book, or newspaper. This distinguishes films from other forms of media since the scope of the medium is so broad. As a result, limits can be imposed under Article 19(2) in the interest of the wider community and to safeguard the nation’s security and feelings.

In the case of K.A. Abbas v. Union of India, the Supreme Court addressed the first question of cinema censorship under Article 19(1) (a) of the Indian Constitution.[4]

The Supreme Court ruled, “A motion picture has the ability to stir up more emotions deeper than any other work of art.” As a result, for the grounds specified in Article 19(2) of the Constitution, a film can be banned. The Supreme Court reached the following conclusion: “Film censorship, age-group classification, and suitability for unrestricted exhibition with or without excisions are all regarded legal uses of authority in the interests of public morality, decency, and so on. This should not be taken to suggest that freedom of speech and expression has been infringed upon.”

The judiciary has not always been in favour of banning all allegedly damaging information. Movies are recognised as a genuine, comprehensible, and essential instrument for raising and treating societal concerns and mindsets. It recognises that a film’s creators may project a message they wish to communicate. It is not required that everyone agrees to such a message. However, this should not prevent a person from expressing his or her opinions or providing a rationale to support them. A democratic society must pave the path and provide the right to think beyond the box, which no one will object to.

Pros & Cons of Censorship:

In response to Divya Ganeshprasad Gontia’s PIL, the Bombay High Court has given notice to the I&B Ministry, the Union Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, the Ministry of Law and Justice, the Ministry of Home Affairs, and the Nagpur police commissioner, requesting their responses. The court has recommended that a pre-screening committee be established to oversee films and series that are published straight on internet platforms such as Netflix and Hotstar. As a result, it is apparent that censorship of web series and digital material is highly likely.[5]

However, Netflix, Hotstar, Al Balaji, Sony Liv, and other online companies have signed a self-censorship pact prohibiting signatories from broadcasting any content that has been prohibited by Indian courts. Amazon Prime Video, the e-commerce giant’s streaming service, has opted out of the code, claiming that existing regulations are sufficient.

While the possibility of censorship has elicited varied reactions from the Indian film business and the general public on social media, it is critical to grasp the benefits and drawbacks

PROS: –

  • The web series and digital media material are easily available to everybody due to their vast reach. When children are exposed to information that contains violence, harsh language, or sex, they are at a significant disadvantage.
  • People have made legal complaints in recent years over harsh material on digital platforms, calling for regulation of series and films distributed on the internet that have the potential to cause harm.
  • According to the Central Board of Film Certification (Encyclopedia)[6],. the casual use of sex and obscene language in such online series is a lure to attract viewers. This raises the question of whether the internet entertainment business should be left unregulated, as well as the implications for minors.
  • Some individuals are concerned about the growing impact of foreign culture that web series and movies promote; nevertheless, censorship will help to regulate this to some level.

CONS: –

  • Producer Ritesh Sidhwani, who has worked on shows including “Inside Edge” and “Mirzapur,” feels that censoring will detract from the story’s uniqueness. He stated that it is the obligation of the filmmakers to ensure that the information is accurate and that only the truth is depicted.
  • People believe that by regulating the web series business, politicians will just be covering up for a reality that already exists in some jurisdictions.
  • The censoring rule is being criticised because some believe it restricts the flexibility and creativity of Indian filmmakers, who are already at a disadvantage owing to content restrictions.
  • People also believe that paying attention to the ratings offered is more essential than suppressing the material. Furthermore, it is the audience’s obligation to view the information with respect.

An Overview of India’s Existing Content Regulation Provisions:

According to the Central Board of Film Certification, India boasts the world’s largest film industry, producing over 1250 feature films and an even greater number of short films each year. On a daily basis, around 15 million people in India watch films, either in the 13,000 cinemas, on video players, or on the television network. As a result, every two months, an audience the size of India’s whole population rushes to its cinemas.[7]

In India, we have a unique law that has been enacted solely for the purpose of film censorship. The Cinematograph Statute of 1952 is the name given to this act. Cinematograph is defined in Section 2 (c) of this act as “any instrument for the display of moving pictures or sequences of pictures”[8]

This statute had a crucial role in establishing the Film Corporation Central Board (CBFC)

The following are essential aspects of the Cinematograph Act:

  • Board of Film Censorship (Section 3) – This section grants the Central Government the authority to create a Board of Film Certification. A chairman and other members must make up such a board. It must have a minimum of 12 members and a maximum of 25.
  • Examination of Films (Section 4) – It is the board’s responsibility to see and evaluate films before approving their distribution. Each film follows a predetermined method. A film’s creators must submit an application indicating their plan to release the film, which is then subjected to a screening procedure before being certified.

A film is only allowed to be released once it has gone through many phases of screening and has undergone the required cuts imposed by the board. With reference to the nature, content, and topic of the film, the film’s approval for public showing might be limited to members of any profession or any class of people12. As a result of the statute, the board has the right to change the picture to fit the audience and community norms.

The board can then limit movies to adults only or refuse to show them publicly (in other words, it can ‘ban’ a film). Before the board takes such action, the creators of the film are given a fair chance to make a representation and explain the views and message that the film wants to convey.

  • Advisory panels (Section 5) – The Central Government may create in the regions and select regional representatives to examine the impact the film will have on society in order to guarantee the efficient performance of its responsibilities. The Advisory Panel shall comply with the regulations on certifying items and offer suggestions to the Board as it considers appropriate. Such officials may earn fees or allowances, but they are not subject to a charge
  • Certification of films (section 5A) – Under the 1952 film certification legislation, the “U” stands for Unrestricted Viewing and ” A” for adult material alone can be categorised under 2 categories. This Act states that an adult refers to an individual who is 18 years old.[9]

Two new classifications, “UA” for unrestricted visualisation, apart from children below 12 and “S” for specific classes of audience films like physicians, science, etc were added by the 1983 Act. The board was required to publish every certificate within the Indian Gazette as far as certification of a movie cares.

There are other laws in 1860, like Section 295A, under the Indian penal codes of 1860. (Criminalising acts intended to outrage religious feelings) The Indecent Representation of girls Act (Prohibition) 1986, which also governs online material, Sections 499 and 500 (defamation), Section 67 and 67A of the knowledge and Technology Act (which bans contents that are obsenic and sexually explicatable)

According to CBFC, the subsequent are the most breaches which trouble the public’s minds.[10]

a. non-adult audience viewing of a “‘A”‘ certified film

b. Exhibition of a certified film “”‘S”” to anyone other than those it is intended for.

c. exhibition of a movie during a form aside from the one during which it had been certified. Such violations are referred to as interpolations.

The following may be a description of interpolations:

i. re-insertion within the prints of a movie of these sections that were removed by the Board when certifying the image

ii. insertion within the prints of a movie of portions that were never shown to the Board for certification.

iii. presentation of irrelevant “”parts”‘ to the authorised film

iv. showing an image that was refused a certificate (or, in common language, “‘banned”‘).

v. showing uncertified films with fake certifications from other films

vi. film screenings without a CBFC certificate

THE CENSOR BOARD’S CONSTITUTION:

The Board is made up of a chairman and non-official members who are all chosen by the government. Mumbai, Maharashtra, is the company’s headquarters. Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, New Delhi, Guwahati, Cuttack, Kolkata, and Thiruvananthapuram are among the company’s nine regional offices.

As previously stated, the Advisory Panels support the Regional Offices. The Central Government, like the Board, selects the Advisory Panels. The members of the panel come from a variety of backgrounds and are chosen for a two-year term.

The Examining Committee and the Revising Committee are the two levels of the jury system.

The Most Common Reasons for Film Censorship or Banning:

In view of the history of why a film has been prohibited or portions of it have been restricted, the following are the primary reasons[11]:

  • Sexuality– In Indian civilization, sexuality is governed by a rigorous social framework. As a result, any media that depicts sexuality, whether in audio, written, or visual form, that has not been fathomed by society and is concerned with a social stigma is prohibited on the grounds that it may have an influence on Indians’ undignified morality.
  • Politics- When it comes to censorship, the isolation of political forces is not far away. The authorised party to it prohibits the direct or indirect portrayal of an allegorical political scenario. The government does not like overt political connotations, which is why certain films are either completely prohibited or have such parts edited or deleted.
  • Communal Violence- In a diverse country like India, a film that incites or stimulates any sort of communal conflict is prohibited. The goal is to avoid the negative effects that such a film would have on the audience it is aimed towards, whether purposefully or accidentally. If the state feels that a film may provoke riots in a community because of how it portrays them in the film, the film will be prohibited or censored by the Board.
  • Incorrect Portrayal- Occasionally, a well-known personality objects to his own representation in a media that will be shown, and as a result, seeks to have it censored. For additional clarification, in situations where the medium is biographical in nature and the person on whom it is based does not approve of the authenticity of the same, the person has sued to have the medium not released, or to have the medium modified and released only after such person’s consent.
  • Religion– Religion does not tolerate any form of resistance or disobedience to the ideals that it promotes. As a result, any media that directly or indirectly distorts any part of religion, such as its teachings, morals, or idols, to mention a few, is heavily chastised and thus restricted.
  • Excessive Brutality– Without a doubt, depictions of extreme gore and violence have the potential to muddle and upset the human psyche. Viewing such scenes has the potential to have a detrimental psychological impact. If the Board agrees that such a scene, in whatever media, may have an underlying detrimental influence on the spectator, counter to the amusement or information that such a scene seeks to impart, the scene may be prohibited, modified, or censored in the public interest by the Board.

Online censorship requirement in India:

“Over the top,” it says, “these platforms do not primarily watch the government. These networks operate ‘over the top’ of other major networks, such as cable and satellite media, controlled by certain rules. Thus, it becomes easier to release material through this platform than other conventional platforms[12]

Online platforms have gained control of mainstream television and are the most widely seen medium for films and series in vulnerable times, such as in today’s Covid epidemic. Platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Zee5, Hotstar and others are increasingly popular on the market. Together, Netflix and Amazon Prime represent over 300 million OTT platforms customers

We must keep in mind that OTT platform users range in age, thus material must be appropriate for a diverse group of people. Many individuals believe that OTT platforms are full of content that is inappropriate for all age groups, with many series being unsuitable for family viewing. Expletives are used, drink and drug addiction are promoted, severe violence and hatred is directed at a certain community, class, or nation, and sexually improper scenes are shown.

On sites like Voot, Netflix, and Hotstar, nine out of ten individuals believe that some sort of restriction is needed. Over half of them support censorship to prevent “unsuitable content” from being broadcast to the public. Of the 91 percent of Indians who believe that material should be regulated, 40 percent believe that the government should police content all of the time.

The Supreme Court has ruled in favour of a petition to censor the web series “Paatal Lok” The petition was not a mere plea for censor cuts, but it had requested the judiciary to bring in a regulation for the content available on OTT platforms. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting replied that sufficient regulations are provided under section 67 and 67A of the Information and Technology Act which deals with content showcasing obscene and sexually explicit act.[13]

Conclusion:

Any profit-making firm may benefit from India’s large population. With one of the highest levels of online material consumption, online regulating measures would boost existing viewership. Because our country’s unique feature is its unity in diversity and a family-oriented culture, creating family-friendly material would do more benefit than harm. We need to create a collaborative system between lawmakers and content creators so that they can grasp the subtleties of their respective fields and create legislation that is advantageous to both sides. Every privilege comes with limitations, which must not be disregarded in the sake of showcasing art or expressing an opinion. Filmmakers must be aware of the influence their work has on children’s minds, and they must be held socially accountable for their acts. Censorship is a tool for bringing out the truth in a dignified manner, rather than suppressing it.

It cannot be denied that streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime have a large audience and assist Indian filmmakers in showcasing their true talent. However, there are legitimate worries about information that is nuanced or violent. As a result, self-censorship looks to be a viable option.

Recommendations:

The discussion above demonstrates that many countries around the world recognise the need for a regulatory body for online web streaming services and OTTs because they are the most popular and preferred form of visual entertainment at the moment, and India requires a regulatory body to protect sensitive audiences. Although the concept of censorship and a censor board is seen as totalitarian, in a country like India, where people hold a variety of beliefs, each of which is sensitive, it is critical to ensure that these emotions and sentiments are not hurt and that everyone is treated equally, necessitating the creation of a regulatory body.

Despite the fact that OTT platforms have signed a self-regulatory code of best practises with the support of the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), they do not implement these standards in practise. In reality, the aforementioned code failed to create guiding principles for Online Curated Content (OCC) Providers to “conduct themselves in a responsible and transparent manner while ensuring that consumer interests are protected.” There have been several issues about particular media material on OTT services such as Amazon Prime, Netflix, and ALT Balaji in recent weeks. It is extremely essential that they be regulated.

References:


[1] Pay Per View (TVOD)https://imagen.io/blog/what-are-svod-tvod-avod/

[2] Video Advertising (AVOD)https://www.muvi.com/feature/video-advertising-avod.html

[3] Article19(2) of Indian Constitution

[4] K.A. Abbas v. Union of India, (1970) 2 SCC 780

[5] Divya Ganeshprasad Gontia V. Union of India.https://legaldesire.com/bombay-hc-issued-notice-to-mha-ib-law-ministry-over-regulation-of-web-series-seeks-reply-by-oct-31/

[6] Censor Board (CBFC), Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Central Board of Film Certification”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 2 Dec. 2014. Accessed 8 July 2021.https://www.britannica.com/topic/Central-Board-of-Film-Certification

[7] https://www.prsindia.org/theprsblog/regulation-media-india-brief-overview

[8] Section 2(c) of Cinematograph act 1952

[9] Section 2(b) of Cinematograph Act, 1952

[10] Violations Guidelines, https://www.cbfcindia.gov.in/main/certification.html

[11] https://www.mondaq.com/india/broadcasting-film-tv-radio/827892/the-cinematograph-act-of-india

[12] Internet Censorship in India. https://time.com/5946092/india-internet-rules-impact/

[13] Gurdeepinder Singh Dhillon v. Union of India, CWP-8089-2020, https://www.livelaw.in/pdf_upload/pdf_upload-376543.pdf

Author: ARNAV VERMA, SCHOOL OF LAW, MANIPAL UNIVERSITY JAIPUR

Editor: Kanishka VaishSenior Editor, LexLife India.

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