Press Trust of india

Content creators dismayed at decision to put OTT platforms under I&B ministry

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New Delhi:  The decision to put OTT platforms under the Information and Broadcasting ministry could put Indian content creators at a disadvantage on the world stage and curtail the creative and personal freedom of makers as well as viewers, a cross-section of writers and directors said on Wednesday.

Filmmakers such as Hansal Mehta and Reema Kagti were among those who reacted with dismay to the government’s move to put OTT platforms, including Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney+Hotstar, as well as online news and current affairs content under the ministry.

However, MX Player CEO Karan Bedi said he looks forward to working with the ministry to implement the efforts towards self-regulation.

“As responsible content creators, we want to ensure this act not only takes cognisance of the nature of content being released, but also ensures that we safeguard creativity in this rapidly growing sector,” Bedi told PTI.

Several other major OTT platforms declined to comment on the development when contacted.

The move gives the Information and Broadcasting ministry powers to regulate policies related to news, audiovisual content and films available on online platforms. There has been no law or autonomous body governing digital content in India so far.

According to a notification issued by the Cabinet Secretariat on Tuesday night and signed by President Ram Nath Kovind, the decision amends the Government of India (Allocation of Business) Rules, 1961 and comes into effect immediately.

“It puts Indian content creators at a disadvantage when they are competing on the world stage. I don’t know what one can do…I don’t know the legal ramifications of this. It is too premature to talk what can be done. We should wait and hope things will get clear when the guidelines or whatever is the intent comes into play,” Kagti said.

Kagti, who has made “Honeymoon Travels Pvt Ltd”, was one of the directors on Amazon Prime Video’s show “Made in Heaven” along with Zoya Akhtar and Alankrita Shrivastava.

“However, nothing specific has been said regarding censorship, except that it is coming under the ambit of I&B ministry. I should wait to hear what exactly this means,” she said, adding that creators are asked for many cuts even though films are certified ‘A’.

Shrivastava, known for “Lipstick Under My Burkha” and “Dolly Kitty Aur  Woh Chamakte Sitare”, said she did not know the details of the decision but was fundamentally opposed to censorship.

“I believe there should be no censorship regardless of the medium. Films and series can be age certified and classified but a free and democratic country should let its adult citizens decide what they would like to watch or not watch in a theatre, or on their phones and computers. The choice must belong to the citizen,” Shrivastava told PTI.

“Aligarh” director Mehta, who made his streaming debut recently with the acclaimed “Scam 1992” on SonyLIV, said the decision wasn’t unexpected but was a reason for despair.

“This desperation for control of free speech and expression does not augur well. I am currently very disappointed,” Mehta told PTI.

Anshuman, the director-writer of “Mirzapur” and “Inside Edge” on Amazon Prime Video, termed the move “unacceptable” and appealed to viewers and creators to band together and challenge the “censorship” in “any and every manner”.

“Whatever happened to the understanding with Mr (Prakash) Javadekar that OTT will be self-regulated? The govt is giving in to the basest demands of prudes. How is this progress in any manner? Don’t like it, don’t watch it. Don’t impose your regressive views on a billion people. Where is the public discourse before this autocratic decision was announced? And what’s the process to appeal, if there’s one at all?” he wrote on Twitter.

With OTT, he told PTI, you have enough tech to ensure children can’t access whatever it is you consider ‘objectionable’ content.

“The state has no business interfering in personal choices of viewers and creative expression of makers. It’s really simple: educate people to turn off their device if they don’t like what they see – they have a million other choices today,” he said.

Gurmeet Singh, also a director of “Mirzapur”, was concerned too.

“We hope no decision is taken that will hamper us in wanting to make any kind of creative content. It’s too early to react to it. We can hope decisions are taken sensibly,” Singh told PTI.

Nupur Asthana, one of the directors of “Four More Shots Please!”, hoped the government would do a rethink.

“I hope the ministry decides to not go forward with this and leave it to audience what to watch and how to watch, they are mature enough. We should respect the audience for their judgement and maturity. There is a child lock system on OTT,” Asthana said.

Danish Aslam, who created the show “Flesh” on the trafficking of women on Eros Now, echoed Asthana and Anshuman

“… nobody is forcing you to watch anything. If you don’t want to see something because it offends you, please do not make the effort of downloading an app, going to the movie theatre and, on top of that, paying for all these activities!

“And as far as exposing the audience to excessive violence and sex – there is this little thing called the internet that already has more than enough of both and in much more gory detail than we will ever depict on a series,” he said.

The joy of OTT platforms, Aslam said, is that one can tell a story the way it’s meant to be told without any artificial restrictions imposed from outside.

Discussing his show, he said, ‘… If I wasn’t allowed to show the brutality of the trade and the impact it has on the people caught in it, then we might as well be having a panel discussion about it.”

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