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OTT platforms in a fix over offensive int’l content


Although such programs do not technically follow Indian codes and ethics, platforms sign contracts to edit and modify content to suit the taste of Indian audiences, similar to practices for censoring Hollywood films when they are released theatrically in the India. Platform executives agree that international content can easily ruffle feathers.

Disney + Hotstar, which was replaced by HBO Originals earlier, was regularly criticized for censoring shows on the service, and when Viacom18 signed a content contract with Warner Bros. Discovery for its full slate of content, including HBO content, there was speculation that JioCinema might also follow. suit

Although the platform has so far not censored episodes of shows such as Succession or Game of Thrones, the idea of ​​only having sanitized versions generates an uproar among viewers who want to watch content in its original form.

“It’s a chicken and egg situation,” said a senior executive at an OTT platform, who did not wish to be named. it’s censored, our subscribers don’t like it. So we try to find a balance. Sometimes, we wait and watch it. If there is any objection from the government, we quickly edit or remove it.”

Incidentally, the Indian government has often warned streaming platforms to display obscene content and offensive language. On March 19, Information and Broadcasting Minister Anurag Thakur said that these platforms were given freedom for “creativity, not obscenity,” adding that the government will not back down from taking necessary action against them.

Additionally, while those familiar with Netflix’s developments said the platform had not received an official or formal complaint regarding its teen drama Class, ministry sources confirmed that Netflix India’s legal head had been asked to remove the series from the top 10 trending lists. the best. . The original Spanish elite, on which the show is based, is available on the service, however.

Sometimes, preferring to err on the side of caution, some platforms censor or remove content even when the same show is streaming on another service, without any cuts. For example, in 2019, Amazon Prime Video took down the first episode of the fifth season of the CBS political drama Madam Secretary, titled ‘E Pluribus Unum’ in India. The episode, which dealt with Hindu extremism, is however available on competing platforms Voot and JioCinema.

“Reducing something is the last resort, but all streaming platforms have clauses as part of their contracts that the acquired content would not cover anyone or create religious or political issues in the country. In the last few years, contractual arrangements have become even more robust,” said Mehak Khanna, partner at law firm Khaitan & Khaitan.

There is no hard-coded framework in place to censor OTT content and the Central Board of Film Certification continues to guide and regulate theatrical content.

“In the case of OTT platforms, the onus of censorship rests with the self-regulating bodies. Parliament recently notified the Information Technology (Digital Media Intermediary Guideline and Code of Ethics) Rules, 2021 which govern all OTT platforms operating in India irrespective of whether they carry domestic or international content. The rules do not differentiate between international content and domestic content and all content is treated equally as far as governance is concerned,” said Pooja Tidke, senior partner, Pariam Law Associates.

Gaurav Sahay, partner, SNG & Partners, Advocates & Solicitors said that there are rules and regulations regarding international matters in India. But currently, there is no authority in place to pre-screen content on OTT platforms.

In another example of an Indian streaming platform getting into trouble for international content, it was pointed out that Disney + Hotstar, blocked an episode of John Oliver’s satirical show, Last Week Tonight in 2020, where he criticized the Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

A senior executive at a streaming platform that regularly receives international content and has multiple partnerships in place said the service prefers to self-censor shows to avoid getting into trouble. “We don’t want any controversies, plus, a lot of these things, for example, initial nudity is unnecessary. So we clean things up ourselves. “While we’re paying millions of dollars for licenses, we will definitely retain the right to edit the show,” the person said.

Having said that, Indian audiences can be quite averse to bold international content and it’s mostly local programming that ruffles feathers. “At the same time, consumers may not differentiate between international and local content and simply see it as the platform’s responsibility to keep Indian sentiments in mind,” the executive said.

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Updated: 26 May 2023, 11:51 PM IST

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