The OTT space allows for creativity and that's what makes it special. However, for a while now, the ministry of information and broadcasting has been working on a notification-- on how to regulate and certify online content. In May, the Supreme Court order had issued a notice to Centre to regulate the content featured on OTT platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hotstar.
Recently, I&B minister Prakash Javadekar told a gathering of the film industry and Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) members that the government plans to meet representatives from OTT platforms, members of civil society, the technical community, media, ISPs and legal experts to discuss the issue even further.
At the second edition of the iReel Awards, a News18.com event that honored the best talent in the webspace who created and performed in shows that changed the landscape of OTT platforms, a panel discussion was held on 'Should OTT platforms be under the standard government censorship?' The panel, moderated by Rajeev Masand, included comedian Sumukhi Suresh, actress Surveen Chawla who recently featured in 'Parched', actor and writer Sumeet Vyas and actor Ravi Dubey.
Sumukhi said that the OTT space has led to creativity only because it allowed for freedom. "We are stuck in a circle. We keep looking at HBO originals and thinking these shows don't get created in India. Now we are beginning to do that. Censoring the content is going to take us ten steps back," she said.
"The first place where censorship should exist are news channels," said Surveen during the panel discussion. She adds, “I am completely against censorship in digital platforms, especially in fiction format. If you are worried about protecting children, you can't even let them watch news, because that's the reality," she said. Surveen said that she is completely against censorship or any moderation and said that it would be best if parents decide what their children see and not the authorities.
Although against the idea of censorship, Sumeet Vyas said that a 'wiser' move for the government would be to sit with the platforms and discuss the kind of content that will be suitable for the Indian audience. He also pointed out that the implementation of such a law, if it comes into existence, will be very difficult. "How do you decide what is violence? There is far more gruesome content on the Internet--just search YouTube and you can see actual incidents of violence. You will have to censor all of that," he said. "You can't just censor violent shows on the OTT platform and not censor those," he said, adding that it is a "Du Dhari talwar situation".
Ravi, who is playing the lead in ZEE5's Jamai 2.0, agreed. He said that storytellers are thriving because of the creative freedom on the OTT platform, but if there's a problem with the content, then the problematic things that are already available on the Internet should be tackled with first.
The video streaming OTT platforms under the scanner include Hotstar, Voot, Zee5, Arre, SonyLIV, ALTBalaji, Reliance Jio, Amazon Prime, Netflix and Eros Now, lawyers, NGOs, Google and Facebook in the coming days.
Talking about the freedom of choice, Surveen said that the audience can decide what they want to watch and not. We were the largest democracy. There’s a freedom of choice. What happened to that?" she asked. "You have the freedom of choice to not watch something, don't watch," she added.
"We not very tolerant as a society. Our sentiments get hurt with the drop of a hat," she said. The actress said that while sex is a taboo subject in the country it has not reduced the number of rapes. "Sex exists, and not talking about sex has led to rapes."
While Suvreen said that no form of censorship will be acceptable to her, Ravi said, "We are not the decision makers. So maybe we will have to come to a middle ground."
Sumukhi added that all said and done, as content creators, they have to be responsible.