Digital Platforms implement ‘Self Censorship’

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Many popular Online Streaming platforms such as Netflix, Hotstar have started self- censoring their content. They have also signed a “Code For Practices” saying they would censor several of their contents in India. According to a release on Jan 17, they have stated that the goal behind this is to preserve the freedom of speech and expression and also taking care of the principles laid in the Information Technology Act and the Indian Penal Code. The code was signed by Hotstar, Voot, Zee5, Arre, SonyLIV, ALT Balaji, Netflix, and Eros Now.

However, Amazon Prime the popular American e-commerce and entertainment giant did not sign the code. It was reported that Amazon Prime has been against “Self Censoring” right from the start. They feel that the current system is “adequate”. Here’s a list of the practices which are prohibited in the Code of practices:

  • Content which deliberately and maliciously disrespects the national emblem or national flag;
  • Content which represents a child engaged in real or simulated sexual activities or any representation of the sexual parts of a child for primarily sexual purposes;
  • Content that deliberately and maliciously intends to outrage religious sentiments of any class, section or community;
  • Content that deliberately and maliciously promotes or encourages terrorism and other forms of violence against the State (of India) or its institutions; and
  • Content that has been banned for exhibition or distribution by online video service under applicable laws or by any court with competent jurisdiction.”

The signatories also have to set up a team solely focused on the complaints against Content being streamed. The Video-streaming industry is booming in India with various local and foreign players are investing big in original content, live sports, and regional-language shows. The Indian over-the-top (OTT) content market is expected to hit $5 billion by 2023, up from $0.5 billion in 2018, according to a report by the Boston Consulting Group.

But in July last year, Netflix got into trouble over its original series Sacred Games, when an Indian National Congress member in West Bengal filed a complaint with police, accusing the show of insulting former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi. And in public interest litigation filed to the Bombay high court, a lawyer argued that web series were displaying “pornographic content” and “vulgar gestures” that were “overriding the Indian culture and morality.” In its response, the high court pushed for the creation of a pre-screening body to check online content before it is released.

In the hearing on 1st week of February in Bombay HC about the need to censor content on social platforms in the backdrop of elections, Facebook, in its petition to Bombay high court had stated that it couldn’t censor and paid political statements. However, it conceded that it would remove content if found objectionable by the election commission of India or any other relevant authority. Earlier today, the Delhi High Court rules against censoring of the content of web series like Sacred Games, Game of Thrones etc. The petition was raised by a lawyers’ organization, ‘Justice For Rights’. However, the high court bench dismissed the petition.

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