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Lok Sabha: MP says obscene content from OTT platforms like Netflix and Ullu should be prohibited

The BJP MP’s remarks follow a recent pattern of complaints being raised against streaming services in view of the IT Rules being instituted by the government.  

Lok Sabha Member of Parliament from the Farrukhabad constituency Mukesh Rajput raised the issue of obscene content on streaming platforms on Wednesday. Rajput, a BJP MP, demanded that ALT Balaji, Ullu, Netflix, and Amazon Prime Video’s “hedonistic, adultery-promoting” content should be stopped. Rajput continued speaking after his prepared remarks and invoked school students getting distracted from their studies, but was cut off by Bhartruhari Mahtab, deputy speaker of the Lok Sabha.

Re: Need to prohibit web series on internet depicting objectionable content.

Shri Mukesh Rajput (Farrukhabad): Sir, with cinema hall closures during this corona period, web series on the internet have made a splash (धमाल मचाए हुए हैं), which is having a bad influence on society. Instead of showing good programs, they are streaming hedonistic, adultery-promoting content that hurts Indian culture and cannot be watched with the family. ALT Balaji, Ullu, Netflix, and Amazon Prime Video are making promiscuous, profane web series, please strive to put an end to this. — Lok Sabha verbatim transcript, translated from Hindi

Why this matters: A BJP Member of Parliament complaining in Parliament — as opposed to asking a question — about content on streaming platforms is significant. The BJP-led government has already instituted the Information Technology (Intermediary Liability and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, which require streaming services to accept complaints on content, put clear labels on mature shows and films, and put in place parental controls. Rajput’s complaints indicate that these controls — already uncommon in democratic countries and potentially problematic — may not be sufficient. The message to streaming services is seemingly clear: in spite of all these legal measures, they may have to tread carefully on content that pushes the envelope.

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IT Rules and streaming services

Streaming services are required by the IT Rules, notified in February, to do the following:

  • Appoint a grievance officer
  • Accept and address comments from the public
  • Join a self-regulatory body headed by an “eminent” person that can hear appeals from disposed complaints
  • Takedown content when directed to do so by the government under provisions of the IT Act
  • Classify all content according to the following classifications: U, U/A 7+, U/A 13+, U/A 16+, and A
  • Have content descriptors for all content with regard to violence, bad language, substance abuse, sex, nudity, etc
  • Have a parental control mechanism to restrict children from watching content rated for mature audiences
  • Publish reports of complaints received periodically

Not all streaming services have complied with these requirements, but the government appears to have been willing to give them some time to get up to speed.

Complaints start coming in

Streaming services have started dealing with complaints being made about alleged obscene content. For instance, Netflix referred a complaint on the film Ghost Stories to the production company that made it, angering one of the movie’s directors, Anurag Kashyap. Hotstar dismissed a complaint earlier this month on the trailer of a show, and it was appealed up to the Digital Media Content Regulatory Council of the Indian Broadcasting Foundation. The DMCRC, chaired by retired justice Vikramjit Sen, dismissed the appeal, ruling that the trailer was not a sufficient basis on which to judge the whole series.

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I cover the digital content ecosystem and telecom for MediaNama.

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.

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