Censorship essentially refers to the process of restricting public speech or expression if the content is objectionable, sensitive, or harmful or ‘inconvenient’. It takes place in various mediums such as books, music, the press, and movies. It controls hate speeches, obscenity, and various other forms of expressions which might potentially cause a lot of chaos.
Freedom of speech and expression cannot be taken for granted and is not absolute in the law as well. One must not cause harm to another individual or community in any way including verbally. The concept of censorship has been introduced to restrict such content which hurt or defame people and their thoughts. Although the constitution of India provides for freedom of speech, some restrictions are placed on the same to maintain peace and communal harmony. In secular countries, these are done to prevent hurting religious sentiments. For example, in a very recent case, a private YouTube channel had posted derogatory comments on a prayer of a Hindu god which hurt the religious sentiments of a lot of people. As a result of this, the owner was arrested.
In context, censorship needs to be made compulsory for OTT platforms as well. OTT refers to streaming services that telecast or broadcast content to the viewers directly via the internet. These predominantly contain movies and TV shows. These platforms have evoked a lot of controversies due to a lot of restrictions that have been allowed to the home screens without any objections.
There has been an evident spurt in the growth of such streaming services. Popular OTT platforms in India mainly include Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, Voot, Hotstar, and a lot more other service providers. A study by Ernst & Young, says that OTT users in the country will reach 500 million by 2020, making India the second biggest market after the US. As much as its viewership increases, it should be kept in mind that it is increasingly becoming accessible to people as well without any specific restrictions. While in movies, films are classified subject to the nature of the content, these platforms must also broadcast censored content or uncensored content specifically for the suitable age group. However, if there is any hurtful or intentional abuse that tends to hurt a particular community’s sentiments, such productions should not be encouraged.
LEGAL STATUS OF CENSORSHIP IN INDIA:
Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) is a statutory body established under The Cinematograph Act, 1952 under the ministry for the regulation of films and public exhibitions. On certification by the CBFC, films can be exhibited publicly in India. The current classifications of films in India are as follows according to Section 5(B) of the Act:
अ / U – Unrestricted public exhibition
अ/व / U/A – Unrestricted public exhibition, but with caution regarding parental guidance to those under 12 years of age;
व / A – Public exhibition restricted to adults 18 years of age and older only;
S – Public exhibition restricted to members of a professional or a class of persons (e.g. doctors etc.) – Although these are very rare.
Section 5(B) (1) of The Cinematograph Act, 1952 lists down various criteriums for not allowing a film to be displayed in public. The CBFC follows 20 reasonable guidelines keeping in mind Article 19 in their minds. Few provisions in the Indian Penal Code and The Information Technology act, 2000 prohibit the display of obscene, dangerous or abusive content. The content streamed by these online platforms does not satisfy any of these criteriums thus making the whole process of censorship pointless since the people have access to the kind of content that needs censor.
Although the government intends to restrict any content that is accessible to everyone under various fixed criteriums, necessary attention has not been given to OTT Platforms which have failed to provide satisfactory content in a lot of circumstances.
CONTROVERSIES CONCERNING OTT PLATFORMS:
Ever since OTT Platforms were not curbed to broadcast uncensored content, they have tended to take the benefit and have misused it under a lot of circumstances. According to Digital Content Complain Council’s rules (DCCC), platforms will have to censor content that is banned by the court such as those depicting child pornography, or those promoting communal violence. In a survey taken by Local Circles from over 40000 people, close to 63% of the people feel that some kind of censorship is the need of the hour. People also feel that this will lead to an increase in the viewership since there will be regulated quality content. Few situations have irked controversies because of unlawful display of the said content and some that hurt a specific community or sect of people. Following are few of them in the recent past:
In the web series XXX Season, 2 by Ekta Kapoor streamed on ALTBalaji, where an ‘inappropriate sex scene’ became an issue since there was an Indian Army Soldier in his uniform who was in this scene seen to be having sexual relations with a wife of another man. Another scene where uniforms of Army men were torn which had the symbols of the Taj Mahal and the Ashoka chakra symbol was also severely criticized. A PTI Report was filed on the owner for various sections under The Indian Penal Code, Information Technology (IT) Act, and the State Emblem of India (Prohibition of Improper Use) Act, 2005.
Recently, Hotstar India had blocked an episode of ‘Last Week Tonight’ by John Oliver where the comedian had prominently criticized The Honorable Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).
Netflix also faced severe backlash. It was criticized for streaming Chippa, in which it insulted Lord Hanuman and a lot of Hindus. Ghoul in Netflix was also condemned and was remarked as projecting ‘anti-national’ ideologies and encouraging terrorism. Leila also sparked controversy for spreading ‘hinduphobic’ ideologies. The First Temptation of Jesus was also censured for depicting Lord Jesus as a homosexual.
Amazon Prime’s Paatal Lok, The Family Man, and The Sacred Games were also subject to a lot of criticism for insulting religious sentiments.
The main purpose of censorship is to restrict content that should not be available to the public as a whole. OTT platforms have been a great source of revenue and a very good alternative entertainment at the ease of staying at home. However, such alternatives cannot be harbingers of potentially hurtful or harmful content. Such must go through a detailed process to avoid unnecessary controversies. Web series in main, and OTT platforms must undergo these processes to reap the benefit of steps taken by CBFC or DCCC to its full.
 Sunil Thomas, The Rise And Rise Of India’s Online Streaming Services, TheWeek (Dec.27,2018, 21:14 PM), https://www.theweek.in/leisure/lifestyle/2018/12/27/The-rise-and-rise-of-India-online-streaming-services.html.
 The Cinematograph Act, 1952, No.37, Acts of Parliament, 1952(India).
 Supra 2.
 INDIA CONST. art.19
 Indian penal code, 1860, No.45, Acts of Parliament, 1860.
 The Information Technology Act, 2000, No.21, Acts of Parliament, 2000(India).
 63% citizens want some kind of censorship or code of conduct to apply to content on OTT platforms, LocalCircles, (Feb.24 , 2020),https://www.localcircles.com/a/press/page/ott-code-of-conduct#.XzV_GvMzbIU.
 Supra. 6.
 The State Emblem of India (Prohibition of Improper Use) Act, 2005.No.50,Acts of Parliament, 2005(India)
 Urvashi Kandpal, AICWA Seeks FIR Against Ekta Kapoor For ‘XXX: 2’ Scene, Demands Censorship Of OTT Content, Republic World (June 11, 2020 , 10:26 PM), https://www.republicworld.com/entertainment-news/bollywood-news/aicwa-files-fir-against-ekta-kapoor-xxx-season-2-scene-demands-censors.html.
Samyuktha Anand, Censorship for OTT Platforms: An Ignored Issue, Ex Gratia Law Journal, (August 19, 2020), https://exgratialawjournal.in/blawg/technology-and-law/censorship-for-ott-platforms-an-ignored-issue/.