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Lawyer files PIL in Madras HC seeking pre-censorship of social media, OTT platforms

Credit: Aditi Agrawal

Advocate K Suthan on Monday filed a PIL in the Madras High Court asking for a pre-censorship authority for social media and OTT platforms. The Times of India first reported on the petition. Six other high courts have heard cases asking for censorship of streaming services, and those courts have largely either dismissed the cases or deferred hearing on them as a similar case is pending before the Supreme Court.

Suthan’s case stands out for its inclusion of user-generated content in the demanded scope for censorship. The petition prays for a censorship body like the Central Board of Film Certification for online content, whether user-generated or curated. The PIL has been filed to the central and Tamil Nadu governments, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Netflix, Zee5, Disney+ Hotstar, BigFlix, Voot, Sony LIV, MX Player, and individual media companies like BehindWoods, IndiaGlitz, Galatta, Cine Ulagam, and Tamil Little Talks.

Petitioner’s arguments

  • No new YouTube channels or videos: In an extraordinary demand, the petition asks for YouTube to not allow any new video uploads or channels to be created until a law is passed to censor social media content. “It is humbly prayed that this Hon’ble Court may be pleased to grant an order of Interim Injunction, restraining the 6th respondent from in manner permitting its subscribers to create a new YouTube Channel or use the existing YouTube Channel pending disposal of the above writ petition and thus render justice,” the petition says. The petition also asked for all the other streaming services it named to not put out any new videos until a law is passed.
  • Anyone can upload on Netflix, Instagram? “A registered account is sufficient to start a channel, which [provides] a platform of uploading videos in the said social media such as YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Disney +Hotstar, Big Flix, Voot, Sony LIV, MX Player, Zee5, and Netflix etc.,” the petition claims, “which means anyone can float anything in the social media, there is no restriction or censor for their contents and there is no regulations at all by the Government.” This is a mischaracterisation — except for YouTube, Facebook and Instagram, the other platforms are curated, and do not let individual users upload their own content.
  • Video recommendations “spoil the future of the student”: “Once we [click on] a video, the related videos are automatically listed in the screen, which persuade the viewers to click those videos also,” the petitioner said. “Therefore there is an imminent possibility of accessing the above Social Medias and its vulnerable contents by the students, further it is very much essential to note here that, allowing such kind of videos / photographs or information without any censor or without framing guidelines for uploads in social Media would spoil the future of the student of our country.”
  • Parallel with censor board: OTT platforms have argued in the past that unlike TV or film theatres, they require less regulation as users choose what they want to see. In the petition, Suthan argues the opposite: “It is pertinent to state here that Films which have been made with huge money are being released after getting censor certificate from Central Board of Film Certification. Moreover going movies is depending upon the interest of the viewer, they may go or may not, it depends upon the movie.  Now viewing using online is inevitable, it cannot be denied that now a day’s social Medias are playing greater role and brining everything around the world. Even a Child is very much interested in using mobile phones for playing games. But some of abusive, adultery, misleading contents are embarrassing, the parents and elders got worried about the future of the children, further definitely it will leads to social dilapidation,” he said.
  • Moderation is insufficient: Suthan argued that individual social media websites’ moderation practices are not enough. “I state that it may be appealed by the Social Medias that they are removing such abusive and objected contents from their Medias.  Such removals are being done once it was viewed by millions of people and only after receiving objections by the influenced persons, so the said practice is not a remedy to safeguard the social credibility, on the other hand it is leading embarrassing situation also spreading violent articles, news, videos through social media platform with intention to endanger the harmony of the country, but the companies owned are not able to stop such broad casting or not taking stringent action to terminate such Violators,” he argued.
    • As an example, Suthan said, “[A] YouTube Channel namely Karuppar Koottam, wherein Lord Muruga [was] wrongly portrayed, though [claimed by YouTube to have been] removed from the YouTube Channel still it is existing and any one can view those videos. Further our great leaders and freedom fighters were also been wrongly portrayed and abused by such miscreants by uploading such videos by using the social media portals.” Karuppar Koottam is a channel run by rationalists, and in recent days infuriated Hindu groups, after which its videos were removed.
  • Adult content: “Apart from the above several vulgar/sexual videos under the head of “SHORT FILMS” [emphasis petitioner’s] are being uploaded in several Social Medias, which are nothing but tutoring the techniques to the youngsters how to abuse a opposite gender, such type of videos are highly influencing the crime against women and children. The very intention of the said persons is to get more views and to get Advertisements to earn money by using this Online Platform, their only intention is to grab money they are not thinking about the future of youngsters and students. Therefore it is just and necessary to regulate such videos and a board/regulatory body has to be formed to regulate the same,” the petition said.

This is not Suthan’s first petition requesting an extraordinary level of censorship; last June, he filed a PIL asking the Madras High Court to restrict telecast of Bigg Boss’s Tamil version. In that petition, he sought CBFC-style pre-censorship for all entertainment TV shows.

Read our complete guide on regulation of OTT streaming providers here.

Read the PIL

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