“There is no doubt about the fact that [over the top] OTT has to be regulated,” said advocate, and BJP spokesperson Hitesh Jain, on October 11, at the seminar on film certification and regulation of online content, held in Mumbai. He said that when content in films, TV, and newspapers is regulated, why should we “carve out an exception” for content on OTT platforms. Jain also said that because in India, we don’t have an absolute right to the freedom of expression, there has to be some sort of a regulation. “In my view, that should be a broad-based regulation,” he added.

The two-day seminar was organised by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT). Attendees at the seminar included prominent film makers, national award-winning film critics, Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) members, and representatives of streaming platforms among others. A ministry source told MediaNama that a similar seminar is scheduled to be organised in Chennai.

If one sector is regulated, is it necessary that other sectors should also be regulated? Sneha Jain of Sai Krishna Associates asked countering Jain’s earlier remark. She said that we should ideally be looking at reducing regulations for a technology like OTT which is actually doing good.

Jain said that cab aggregators like Uber entered the scene by declaring that they were merely marketplaces and hence didn’t require any kind of regulation, when traditional cabs had to undergo the entire license regulation. “But then there were safety and security issues,” he added, hinting at the fact that regulation is perhaps the only way to address shortcomings of an internet-based platform.

MediaNama asked two questions to the Additional Secretary of MIB, Atul Kumar Tiwari:

  • During the porn ban case, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi had said that the government doesn’t want to enter our bedroom and do moral policing. Isn’t this certification going to do that?
  • Is there the capacity to certify the hundreds and thousands of videos uploaded on the internet everyday.

Both these questions didn’t elicit a response.

Regulation of online content not compatible with democracy: Saibal Chatterjee

“Internet regulation, I think is not compatible with democracy. China can do it because China isn’t a democracy. We are a liberal democracy, and all major liberal democracies allow people to access what they want [to watch] in terms of entertainment,” said Saibal Chatterjee, a national award-winning film critic.

“If a person can be trusted to go out and vote and elect a government…it’s ridiculous to say that suddenly, the person who has the power to go and vote doesn’t have the common sense to decide what he or she wants. That whole thing is completely meaningless in a democracy because you can’t tell people, you can’t tell people what to watch.” – Saibal Chatterjee

Sneha meanwhile said that regulators have to be proportionate in how they regulate content on Online Curated Content platforms (OCCPs). “Any technology which comes in the response that the industry, the regulators, the facilitators have to make has to be proportionate. It’s actually something which is promoting the cause of freedom of speech, promoting the cause of democracy. We have to maintain that the response also has to be proportionate,” she said. She also said that implementability of such a regulation should be a key consideration by the government, given the volume of content on the internet:

“There is no point in having a law or regulation, which actually on ground is impossible to implement. And I think in the TV space, it was realised too long ago that we’ll be dealing with the kind of world views that are generated. In terms of content, self-regulation has proved effective [for TV]. I think that mechanism has worked really well, when it comes to volumes of content.” – Sneha Jain

FCAT’s Bina Gupta said that the “remote is the biggest tool in our hands today”. Chatterjee also said that regulation of content on OCCPs will “take a lot of doing”. “It’s not going to be easy at all, unless you impose a lot of laws and sort of penalise the service provider; who will penalise the person who’s watching it. So, all that will take a while and maybe we shouldn’t go in that direction at all because we should just sensitise people and spread awareness,” he added.

“If I am allowed to go out and buy any toothpaste I want, any soap I want, and I’m allowed to pay any price I want, I should be allowed to watch what is available. If I don’t like something, I won’t watch it. But, if somebody comes and says [that] from tomorrow, you can’t watch this because it’s not available to you anymore, maybe I’ll migrate to some other country.” – Saibal Chatterjee

Self regulation is working for us: Zee5

“In 18 months of our existence, we have not received complaints objecting to the content on the platform, giving us confidence in our self-regulation approach,” said Aparna Acharekar, Zee5’s programming head. Zee5 is among the signatory platforms to the Internet and Mobile Association of India’s (IAMAI) self-regulatory code for video streaming platforms, which was announced in January 2019.

“We are committed to adhere to self-regulation while upholding the moral and social fabric of our society. As a young OTT platform, we have always maintained the highest standard of content quality in accordance with the laws of the country. Zee5 was launched in February 2018 with parental controls as a prominent feature allowing parents to control access to content that are classified for viewing only for mature viewers. All users first register themselves, represent that they are above 18 years of age and then duly agree to the terms and conditions, post which they’re allowed access to the content,” Acharekar said.

“One man’s vulgarity is another man’s lyric; what is obscene to one, maybe artistic to another. Thus, given the highly subjective nature of creativity, self-regulation is the best form of compliance, and we strongly believe is the right approach to take for the future.” – Aparna Acharekar

Zee5 is also continuously investing in artificial intelligence and machine learning to map language and visuals for any offensive or obscene content, said Acharekar. “This ensures that any future and existing content on our platform will pass through stringent quality checks before it reaches the consumer,” she added.

Counterpoint: What if someone violated the self regulatory code, asked Jain

“Now, suppose a member violates the code of conduct, who’s going to enforce [it]? Tomorrow [if] someone says there is no regulatory body [and] I’m not going to follow the such regulations, what is going to happen? So, of course, as the situations evolve, the answers will also evolve to the situation,” Jain said.

Regulation will result in mediocre content: Chatterjee

“As a person who goes to film festivals around the world, the films that are most celebrated are films that are critical of their own society. They’re critical of their own quality of their own culture,” Chatterjee said.

“In India, I think we are a little too touchy.” – Saibal Chatterjee

“We talk about the nation’s image, our cultural purity or whatever; we don’t realise that a democracy will be judged by content that is critical, which is not something that happens in India. So that’s why we have a lot of this kind of sanitised, disinfected stuff out there. And we celebrate them. So, we are a country that celebrates mediocrity. Anything that is outside the pane of that mediocrity is something that we are not comfortable with. An artist’s job is to question the status quo, and an artist who is just playing along isn’t an artist, [s/he] is just an advertiser,” he added.

Counterpoint: Regulation is necessary because content can also spread hatred, said Jain

“Future wars will not be the conventional wars, but you can provoke a section of the society or provoke of people by coming with a set of a program or you can create a program which will create a divide between two communities and it will create a feeling of sense of hatred or it will divide the society, Jain said. He acknowledged that there has to be creative freedom, but argued that in this case, “prevention is better than cure”.

Public vs Private viewing

OTT being a pull medium, audiences have complete freedom to accept or reject content at their own free will, Acharekar said. “They can choose to watch content of the choice while in their personal space or with the family. We believe that proper classification of content, indicating age groups it is appropriate for, is the right way to empower the consumer and allow him to take an informed decision,” she added.

Here are I&B minister Prakash Javadekar (via video conference) and secretary Amit Khare’s comments from the seminar.