Indian Twitter Brings Back the OTT Censorship Debate with Bombay Begums

The commission said that content like Bombay Begums could “pollute young minds” and also result in abuse and exploitation of children

We are living in an era of entertainment on the go. With the rise of platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney+ Hotstar, and Zee Prime, to name a few, we have a wide variety of content at our fingertips. However, lately, these over-the-top (OTT) platforms have been facing the ire of the Indian government, on censorship of content. Ever since the OTT platforms have been brought within the purview of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) by the government, there have been rising concerns in the streaming sector that curbs will be introduced by the Ministry on the OTT content through its own set of rules and regulations. But the question looming in everybody’s mind is how far is the curtailment of entertainment forms justified?

OTT: Is Censorship Required?

As against TV channels, OTT platforms have for now greater creative freedom as there is no regulation over it currently. So, with the fear of regulation looming large, content creators are particularly worried as that will severely impact the growth of the segment. What has further aggravated that fear is the MIB outright rejected a self-regulation code which was formulated by the OTT players themselves under the aegis of IAMAI. With the self-regulation code rejected, the IAMAI committee will be coming out with another one in its place – called the ‘implementation code’.

The entry of new players in the OTT arena has led to the growth of these platforms at a breakneck speed, backed by huge content investments which are running into millions by the likes of Amazon Prime, Hotstar, Voot, Netflix, Alt Balaji among others.

As per a PwC report, India currently is the fastest-growing market for OTT video, growing at a CAGR of 28.6%, and is projected to become the sixth-largest OTT market with revenue touching $2.9 billion by 2024.

According to Factly, the Indian Film industry is the largest, making around 1250 feature films and an even much larger number of short films every year. While censorship came into action recently due to few controversial web series, filmmakers have raised a further question on the freedom of creativity.

Reason For the Arousal of This Necessity

The most recent issue surrounding OTTs was the John Oliver show on Hotstar, where he actively criticized Narendra Modi and CAA and the show was further blocked on Hotstar. A similar incident occurred on Hasan Minaj’s show that dealt with Lok Sabha Elections, 2019, and was highly criticized later. However, Netflix didn’t succumb to the pressure. Shows such as Sacred Games was criticized as it mentioned some speculative lines on Rajeev Gandhi and also mentioned about the Bofors scam. Leila was criticized as it hurt the feeling of Hindus by promoting Hinduphobia. It was highly criticized by viewers.

Other than Netflix, Amazon Prime also deleted an entire episode of CBS Political Drama “Madam Secretary” in its Indian version. The show was said to hurt the sentiments of various people as it deals with Hindu Nationalism, India occupied Kashmir, violence on Muslims by majoritarian society, etc.

Recently the Madhya Pradesh High Court dealt with the situation in a PIL filed by an NGO, Maatr Foundation (W.P. No. 18801/2019). The plea was filed to deal with the regulations against alleged streaming of obscene and sexually explicit content. They alleged that these media content streamers are broadcasting content that is unregulated, un-certified, vulgar and legally restricted. The platforms portray women indecently and shall be punished under sections 3, 4 and 7 of Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986.

The streamers shall also be punished under Sections 292-294 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 for publicly exhibiting, distributing, and portraying obscene acts, pamphlets, representation, figures, etc. The content can also be viewed by children under 18 years of age which exposes them to sexual acts, terrorist activities, and vulgar content.

#TakeActionOnBombayBegums

The latest in the line of shows and films accused of being Hindu-phobic and contain problematic scenes like underage children indulging in smoking, drug abuse, and watching pornographic content is the multi-starer starring Pooja Bhatt among others, Bombay Begums. Twitter users started trending the hashtag #TakeActionOnBombayBegums while leveling accusations against the show and its creators. While the hashtag garnered more than 19000 tweets, here are a few of them:

This has brought back the raging debate in the country over the censorship of OTT platforms and the content produced by Bombay Begums. While the year 2021 has thrown challenges tougher and more severe in nature in the government’s way, like the ragging spread of COVID-19, deaths to the tune of 5000 a day, oxygen shortage, medicine shortage, vaccination shortage, etc, it remains to be seen whether the OTT censorship once again takes the centre stage or the government can prioritize this time around.

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