By Prarthana Mitra
Leading online streaming platforms Netflix, Amazon and Hotstar are contemplating offering their Indian viewers the option to choose and censor content. This voluntary censorship code was a primary talking point at a recent meeting between their respective content heads, reported sources close to the matter.
In its latest reports, Netflix, for example, had cited censorship as a risk factor. Over the course of the meeting on Tuesday in New Delhi, senior-level executives explored what this code would entail if implemented, and how having such a protocol can help ease regulatory uncertainty, untoward incidents, ire from the government and unprecedented lawsuits.
In India, where online content is largely unregulated, there is a raging debate on how and how far digital content should be monitored, controlled and censored. Recently, a proposal was made to include online content under the Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act 1986. Most streaming portals are worried about crossing the line and risking their popularity with inadvertently incendiary content.
A possible way out
Amidst mass confusion regarding whether the purview of regulation lies with the telecom ministry, IT ministry or the broadcast ministry, viewership is increasingly turning away from the television towards the online streaming video on demand format. Global key players like Netflix and Amazon want to be sure they are legally secure without curbing artistic and personal freedom much, leaving it to the viewer’s discretion instead. The code will thus enable the Indian viewer to make an informed choice about the content they prefer not to expose themselves to.
“A code could set out principles to ensure that content offered on these participating platforms are free from hate speech, hate crimes, child pornography and other forms of inappropriate content. The code could also express support towards redressing complaints from consumers,” said a senior executive of one of the VoD players. Some others were cautiously optimistic with the voluntary aspect of it, considering this an equivocal solution to the problem at hand.
Issues, like curbing piracy and demarcating television and streaming content, were also discussed at length at the meeting, coordinated by the Observer Research Foundation (ORF).
A case for self-regulation
Considering the backlash and outrage faced by the Information and Broadcast ministry, after its declaration to monitor online content in April, it is perhaps necessary for the stakeholders to step in and created more nuanced laws with a greater level of understanding of audience needs and demands.
Acknowledging self-regulation as the norm for the streaming era, standardising these rules among different platforms today will help the industry already past its nascent stage. “Self-regulation is a model that works well around the world. If there is content that is inappropriate for children, we should play up the warning signs and inform the consumer,” added a person privy to the talks.
All SVOD platforms have their internal rules so far, but this code “brings everyone at par and creates a level playing field among themselves,” said a senior lawyer who did not want to be named. “These companies aren’t fly-by-night operators. They are here to do business. Internally they are liable to stakeholders if something goes wrong,” he further told the Economic Times.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius.
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