While the new IT rules are intended to expand the government’s scope of regulation, streaming platforms still censor content.
After the backlash against the Amazon Prime Video series Tandav by right-wing groups, a web series about the hijacking of Indian Airlines flight IC 814 was discontinued from a streaming platform, director Vishal Bhardwaj told Journalist Barkha Dutt in an interview on The Mojo Story. “Darr ke maare (crazy) the OTT platforms said we weren’t allowed to touch anything,” said Bhardwaj. “I told them it was a fact, it happened in our history. And it’s not against our current government because it wasn’t about the government; our whole nation was blackmailed, we were under siege. “Bhardwaj quoted” the fear among the moneymen ” [and] the OTT platforms ”as the reason for the suspension of his show.
The kidnapping was one of India’s greatest crises at the turn of the century. Taliban terrorists took over a flight from Kathmandu to Delhi and demanded – and finally achieved – the release of three terrorists imprisoned in India who are believed to have been involved in major terrorist attacks since then. PeepingMoon had first reported in January a series was in development with Srinath Raghavan producing; At this point in time, the OTT platform had not yet been determined. Vishal Bhardwaj tried to make a film about the kidnapping in 2014, but the project is said to have failed due to financial reasons.
Censorship on streaming platforms in recent years
Over the past two years, streaming platforms have carried out several acts of self-censorship:
- In an unprecedented step Netflix released a censored version of the film Mission Impossible: Fallout after delaying its release for weeks without explanation. An Indian map with government-challenged borders was also removed from the original Netflix series Street Food: Asia [read]
- Netflix also released a censored version of the show Vikings in India, prioritizing the inclusion of Hindi dubbing for the show over the intended streaming of the show. [read]
- Amazon Prime Video censored Borat Subsequent MovieFilm in India and blurred a map of the world to blur the country’s borders with Pakistan and China. Amazon also added a disclaimer at the beginning of the movie, which apparently wasn’t the case for the copies of the movie released in other markets.
- ZEE5 suspended the release of the Tamil web series Godman following a cycle of online indignation involving a senior retired bureaucrat and a MP from Rajya Sabha who had personally reached out to Zees Subhash Chandra to cancel the show’s release. [read]
- OLD Balaji and ZEE5 censored an episode of XXX: Uncensored after people resisted the portrayal of a military officer’s wife who got her lover to put on his uniform in a sex scene. [read]
- Hot star blocked an episode of Last Week Tonight starring John Oliver about Narendra Modi and the rise of Hindu extremism in India.
- While the company didn’t censor the show as much after Oliver called them to do it, it zoomed in on Oliver’s face in a subsequent shot episode via the World Health Organization to avoid showing a map of India with government disputed borders. [read]
- ZEE5 Edited a sketch of an Indian freedom fighter from a TV show after the appearance of the sketch on a wanted poster in the background of a shot on the Internet caused outrage. [read]
- I&B Minister Prakash Javadekar intervened to: a. to censor ZEE5 / ALT Balaji show [read]
- In its fifth censorship instance in 2020 ZEE5 and later resumed the Pakistani show Churails from their platform in their country of origin. [read]
- Hot star Mentions of beef and ham in the cartoon DuckTales were reportedly censored. [read]
- Amazon Prime Video censored Tandav amid mounting police complaints and lawsuits resulting from a backlash over a play-within-a-play scene in which a character plays the role of Shiva on stage.
- Netflix chose not to release Record of Ragnarok in India and refused to comment on the reasons for it. The show prominently features a fictional version of Shiva portrayed as a destructive fighter.
Read the full list here.
Why IT rules worry OTT platforms
The recently announced rules for information technology (agent liability and code of ethics for digital media) 2021 require streaming services:
- Name a complainant.
- Take part in a three-step complaint process.
- The streaming service itself (Level I)
- A self-regulatory organization set up by the streaming service (Level II)
- Government oversight mechanism (Level III)
- Enter age ratings and content descriptions for movies and series that will be published online.
Streaming services are concerned about possible censorship and criminal activity due to and in spite of IT rules. In a statement to the Department of Information and Broadcasting, the Internet and Mobile Association of India said April 9 that the rules’ deadlines are insufficient to set up parental controls and add content descriptions. The IAMAI – whose Digital Entertainment Committee represents most of the major streaming services operating in India – argued that the rules did not address the issue of police proceedings (“parallel criminal action”) filed against streaming services, saying that the rules existed expressly exclude the criminal prosecution of a content.
The association also criticized the fact that the Interdepartmental Committee, the government organization that was set up as a forum for final appeals from injured viewers, could receive and process complaints directly; IAMAI said the IDC should only hear appeals from the self-regulatory authority, the second tier on top of each streaming service.
Censorship not limited to OTT platforms
In his interview, Bhardwaj cited the government’s increasing control over creative expression as a factor in such censorship cases. Based on his film Haider, an adaptation of Hamlet that is set in what is now Kashmir, the filmmaker replied to the question of whether he could make the film today: “Forget it, I couldn’t even think of this script. Because I knew that nobody would be willing to spend money on it. “
Much of the damage in terms of censorship has already been done, Bhardwaj said. These changes aren’t limited to streaming. Recently, the government proposed an amendment to the Cinematographers Act that would require a reassessment of a film approved by the Central Board for Film Certification. The Film Certification Appellate Tribunal, which allowed filmmakers to appeal against unfavorable decisions from the CBFC, was abolished in April. The CBFC itself as a former member noticed, has been occupied by conservative members in recent years, ending a somewhat liberal streak in the organization.
Alluding to the damage that had already been done to creative expression, Bhardwaj called the proposed cinematograph change a “pie on the cake” and pointed out that the government found it uncomfortable to target the officials of the censors it appointed trust.
In one (n interview Together with Karan Thapar, Kamal Hassan described the proposed changes to the Cinematograph Act as a form of “McCarthyism”, referring to the anti-communist scare tactics that US Senator Joseph McCarthy embodied during the Cold War. “Collective introspection is very important. And if you keep silencing those voices, reason cannot be made visible to everyone, ”said Hassan.
“It’s a secret that everyone knows,” Bhardwaj said of the growing censorship.