Two Major Points Missing From Debate On OTT Content

Two Major Points Missing From Debate On OTT Content

by Sanjeev Newar and Swati Goel Sharma - Friday, April 21, 2023 11:10 AM IST
Two Major Points Missing From Debate On OTT ContentA still from ALTBalaji’s show XXX Uncensored.
  • Today, when India is on the verge of rising again as Vishwaguru, when we are a country of the largest number of young people, these OTT platforms are adamant on destroying the spine of our youth.

The government machinery is slowly but certainly moving on the issue of regulation of content on OTT (over-the-top) platforms. 

Three days ago, the Delhi High Court asked the government of India’s response on steps it has taken to regulate OTT content. The court called the issue of enactment of guidelines or laws for OTT content one of “urgent attention”.

Last month, Union Minister of Information and Broadcasting Anurag Thakur reiterated the government’s stand in public that OTT platforms “have freedom for creativity but not for obscenity”.

In November, the minister had said that the Centre would bring a law to regulate digital media and OTT.

While public exhibition of films in India is regulated by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) as per guidelines laid out in The Cinematograph Act, 1952, and television content is regulated by The Cable Television Networks Regulation Act, 1995, there is no similar government regulatory authority for OTT content. 

Two years ago, the Centre notified draft rules for it, named as Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021. The draft is open for feedback from the public and stakeholders. 

In the interim, there is a three-tier co-regulatory grievance redressal mechanism in place, where the first tier calls for grievance redressal by the producer of the content, second tier calls for self-regulation by the platform and third tier calls for intervention of Central Government Oversight Committee.

This was informed by top officials of Information and Broadcasting Ministry to opposition MPs in a meeting two days ago. 

Simply put, OTT content is currently controlled by self-regulation and, that too, by those whose business strategy seems to be to attract higher and higher traffic through more and more provocative content.

In this ongoing discussion, two key points have been completely left out, which we are elaborating below:

1. Content Streamed On Mobile Phones Making Certification Redundant

OTT content entered the Indian market in a big way in 2015 with the launch of Disney+Hotstar, although a content aggregator platform had been launched two years earlier in Zee-owned DittoTV. The OTT reach expanded significantly with the entry of Amazon Prime and Netflix in 2016. 

There are over 40 OTT platforms today, several of which are associated with adult and ‘vulgar’ content such as Ekta Kapoor’s ALTBalaji and Ullu.

Several shows on Hotstar, Amazon and Netflix have featured nudity, graphic sexual scenes, gore, paedophilia and rape, besides religiously offensive content.

Considering that most actors and filmmakers behind these shows were well-established in Bollywood, the lack of self-regulation in their work for OTT is evident. This is not to say that Bollywood itself ever stuck to censorship guidelines. 

For instance, when Netflix launched its first India-made show, Sacred Games, featuring Bollywood actors Saif Ali Khan and Nawazuddin Siddiqui and directed by Vikramaditya Motwane and Anurag Kashyap, the show had full-frontal nudity and sexually explicit foul language. 

The limits of such content has only leaped ahead since then. XXX Uncensored (sexual content) and Mirzapur (violence, gore, foul language) are some examples.

The OTT platforms currently give a self-devised age-appropriate rating for each show.

However, certification is redundant in the Internet age. 

Let’s face it, the CBFC has become outdated in dealing with restricting of viewing of the content to its intended audience. The CBFC was formed and its guidelines were laid out at a time when the audience could be physically restricted from viewing films that were screened in a few theatres with a limited capacity at specified times of the day. 

If a film was given, say, an A-certification (restricted to adult audience), the ticket-checker could physically filter the audience before they sat down for watching the content. Today, we are dealing with a phenomenon where the content is streamed directly on mobile phones through Internet, making the certification redundant. There is no ticket checker-like gatekeeper anymore. 

The OTT platforms have no in-built mechanism in place to restrict the audience. If a child opens an account on any of the OTT platforms, all that is asked of him is whether he is a child, to which the child only has to press ‘no’ and the entire range of the content on that platform is open for him.

In other words, OTT platforms have outsourced this self-regulation of vulgar content to the maturity of a six-year-old, that is, a child who is 12 years short of becoming a legal adult. And since the platform is designed for addiction, does this not amount to sexual-grooming of children?  

Unless the OTT platforms come out with an in-built mechanism to really restrict children from watching age-inappropriate content, the entire responsibility is assumed to be on the child’s guardians. This is being knowingly irresponsible for selfish reasons. One knows fully well that it is impossible for crores of parents to restrict access to mobile phones at all times from their kids. 

2. Discouraging Over-Abundance Of Entertainment 

There is an abundance of entertainment through a plethora of media channels, be it magazines, television, cinema or Internet. We would call it over-abundance of entertainment. 

A major part of the mind is today occupied with consuming and processing content that seeks to titillate, shock, give voyeuristic pleasure or just burn time. People are increasingly becoming entertainment gluttons. 

Unfortunately, it is not only the private businesses that seem to be pushing this over-consumption of entertainment for an obvious financial agenda, but also various government agencies by bestowing disproportionate honours on entertainers. 

For instance, film, television and OTT content producer Ekta Kapoor was awarded Padma Shri in 2021 even as a large chunk of her productions has come under fire from the public for promoting obscenity and infidelity.

The ALTBalaji OTT platform focuses on erotic content which is objectionable to most Indian parents, let alone children. We wonder what her contribution to art or science of cinema was that earned her one of the highest civilian honours in India!

Another Padma awardee, Karan Johar, rose to fame with sleazy shows like AIB Roast where he indulged in explicit sexual jokes, videos of which are widely available online.

For a long time, the country has held social and spiritual reformers, saints and warriors as its icons.

Freedom fighters are eulogised for making supreme sacrifices of joys and even their own lives in pursuit of swarajya, warriors are idolised for giving up worldly pleasures to uphold dharma, and saints are revered for spending entire lives seeking knowledge and reaching it to the masses, eradicating evils like superstition and discrimination. 

We are one of the oldest surviving civilisations with a Vedic heritage that gave rise to countless heroes who displayed superhuman achievements through strength of character.

We have the legacy of exactly the kind of role models that the world needs to know today for direction, purpose and transformation. We are the land of Maryada Purushottam Ram. What is the point of worshipping Ram if we make mockery of maryada?

By awarding sexual perversion, we are gifting the worst kind of role models to our youth. It’s no secret that most icons of the entertainment industry have made their money and fame through irresponsible work such as celebrating rape and glorifying violence, besides mocking the religious beliefs of the common Hindu — India’s majority community.

Today, when India is on the verge of rising again as Vishwaguru, when we are a country of the largest number of young people, these OTT platforms are adamant on destroying the spine of our youth. Countless studies have shown the adverse impact of perverted content on sexual crimes and mind. 

Haven’t we all heard of the proverb — If character is lost, everything is lost? 

Instead of only focusing on framing regulatory rules for the content, the government must discourage the over-abundance of entertainment. China was destroyed in the opium war. Over-abundance of low-grade sleazy entertainment would do far worse.

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