A Ministry of Defence letter has asked the government to require a no-objection certificate for content in the “public domain” that features the armed forces. The Tribune first covered the letter on July 31. The letter cited an episode of the ALT Balaij/Zee5 show XXX Uncensored which led to backlash months after the episode came out. Both streaming services censored the scene that caused the outrage in June.

“The producers of movies/web series etc based on Army theme [sic] may be advised to obtain the ‘NOC’ from Ministry of Defence before the telecast of any movie/documentary on Army theme in public domain,” the letter said. “They may also be advised to ensure that any incident which distorts the image of Defence Forces or hurts their sentiments may be prevented.”

This letter could impact streaming platforms that have shows or films coming up featuring the armed forces. Netflix, which has a film on air force officer Gunjan Saxena coming out later this month, declined to comment on whether they plan on getting an NOC before the film’s scheduled release on August 12.

The letter is addressed to the Ministries of Information & Broadcasting and Electronics & Information Technology, and the Central Board of Film Certification. Tushar Karmarkar, the regional officer who is addressed in the letter, told MediaNama that while the CBFC has not officially received the letter yet, they currently do not certify online content. We were not able to reach the official from the I&B Ministry the letter was copied to for comment — the I&B Ministry does not currently have the jurisdiction to regulate online content, but its secretary said recently that it was proposing to take that responsibility from MEITY.

Other ministries and OTT regulation

While the CBFC could very well comply with the Defence Ministry’s request — it has arbitrarily required NOCs in the past when not required by law to do so — it is unclear whether the I&B Ministry or MeitY, which have not explicitly imposed regulatory requirements on streaming services in the past, will do so.

This isn’t the first time an outside ministry has tried to insert get into an OTT regulation role — in 2017, a Health Ministry official wrote to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India asking it to require streaming services to display smoking warnings as is done for films shown in theatres. As is the case for the censor board, TRAI does not regulate online content.

OTT players have been in industry– and government-level negotiations to set up a self-regulation system for streaming services. The Digital Content Complaints Committee, agreed to by five streaming services, has faced resistance within the Internet and Mobile Association of India, which is coordinating the talks.