This article has been written by Vinay Kella, a Student at Nirma University.
“ If you make 10,000 regulations then you destroy all respect for the law”
– Winston Churchill
Recently after receiving complaints of nudity and language the Information and Broadcasting ministry released a notification that all these OTT platforms along with current affairs content and digital news, will be governed by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.
First of all, before starting the topic we need to understand the term OTT. The term OTT means ‘OVER THE TOP platforms which allow the user to view content online and bypasses the cable, broadcast, satellite television platforms (traditional sources of routing entertainment to the people)’ and in the modern world has become a medium of expression on various topics through Films, web series, etc.
“ I want freedom for the full expression of my personality” – Mahatma Gandhi
This quote by the Father of the nation emphasizes the inevitable need of free speech and expression for the development of society and individuals in order to flourish as a liberal democratic nation.
The Information and Broadcasting ministry published a notification, and the change was made through the amendment of Allocation of Business Rules and announced through a gazette notification dated November 9 by the Cabinet secretariat. The amendment brought “film and audiovisual programmes by online content providers” and “news and current affairs content on online platforms” under the ministry of information and broadcasting’s domain for regulation.
And many controversies in various web series like Tandav, Jinn, 13 reasons why, messiah, tiger king, Gunjan Saxena, etc. have come up to the shore. These web series caused a high uproar and controversies as they were related to sensitive topics like religion, animal rights, air force etc and due to the immense popularity of OTT platforms in India which is corroborated by the fact that these OTT platforms have crossed about 40 million customers and constitute a market worth approximately Rs.3000 crore.
So in order to regulate fake news and taking into sentiments of the society and people, the Indian government aims to draft and legislate overarching legislation for OTT platforms (as these Over The Top platforms are unregulated in India) and news websites that will establish a self-regulation system and resolve sensitive content and fake news issues, a step aimed at establishing a level playing field in the company.
In October 2020 the supreme court issued notices to the Union Government and IMAI over a petition to regulate these platforms.
As a coin has two faces a positive and a negative one and similarly every step has it’s negative and positive aspects and in order to come to a conclusion for the large benefit of society and the nation we should consider both the aspects because an “Honest disagreement is often a sign of good progress” – Mahatma Gandhi
ARGUMENTS FOR REGULATION OF OTT PLATFORMS:-
1. Several rationales are given for regulating the OTT platforms as the print and the TV media are already under regulation like the Cable television network act, 1995 and News Broadcaster Organization. Former information and broadcasting secretary Uday Kumar Varma said the step was long overdue.
2. The Films and the advertisements are regulated by the respective statutory bodies such as the Central Board Of Film Certification and the Advertising standard councils of India. So the question put forward by the people is why the OTT enjoy special treatment over their content regulation?
3. And due to such immense growth of the digital media and a significant shift of viewership from traditional media to digital media, there is a real need for having an appropriate oversight framework for online news and content, at par with traditional media platforms.
ARGUMENTS AGAINST REGULATION OF OTT PLATFORMS:-
1. The step has been widely criticized due to the fear of regulation by the Government for the content which is against the government’s ideology or criticise the government in any way.
2. And several filmmakers and experts have questioned the governments move and expressed their displeasure.
“This desperation for control of free speech and expression does not augur well. I am currently very disappointed,” filmmaker Hansal Mehta said.
Karan Anshuman also said "Whatever happened to the understanding with Mr (Prakash) Javadekar that OTT will be self-regulated? The govt is giving in to the basest demands of prudes. How is this progress in any manner? Don't like it, don't watch it. Don't impose your regressive views on a billion people. Where was the public discourse before this autocratic decision was announced? And what's the process to appeal, if there's one at all? “
3. Self-regulation is not an efficient mechanism as recently seen in the case with Tandav where in spite of in absentia ( no laws ) regarding the regulation of OTT platforms the makers had to cut some scenes and made a public apology and the line between censorship and self-regulation was blurred.
4. Law needs to balance both the competing and conflicting interests in order to stabilise the society and one’s freedom of expression just can’t be shunned away due to religious intolerance of any community because “pluralism is no longer an asset or perquisite for progress and development, it is vital for our existence”.
5. For becoming a liberal democratic society, an increasing intolerance to pluralistic views is the last thing that such a diverse country like us needs!
6. The competing interests and conflicts between the society in an efficient way as these type of platforms are free to do their business as article 19(1)(g) right to carry trade and any profession , services to all citizens and further Article 19(1) of the Indian Constitution grants freedom of speech and expression to all citizens with certain reasonable restrictions that can be imposed by the government but these restrictions that can be imposed by the government must not be used arbitrarily to attack dissent and curb freedom of speech and expression under the name of regulation and the OTT platforms must also work in a collaborative way to ensure harmony and peace and not be malicious in their approach and must not take unfair advantages of their rights guaranteed by their constitution.
“Without freedom of speech, there is no modern world, just a barbaric one “ - Ai Weiwei
This quote by the Chinese artist and activist emphasizes the inexorable need for freedom of speech and expression and signifies to us that the high handling of such platforms must be done with a pinch of salt and we must be mindful of not blurring the line between censorship and regulation