Whose porn is it? OTT era gives India’s culture industry great global opportunities. Censorship will kill them


Even as the streaming industry was grappling with all the dampening implications of the Centre’s new IT rules, a Supreme Court bench has gone further by asking for “screening” of content on OTT platforms. To the court’s complaint that the new rules for intermediaries and digital media “are lacking in teeth”, solicitor general Tushar Mehta granted that “no censorship, and self-regulation seem to be the idea behind the new regulations.” But then, worryingly, he offered that the government could come up with another draft factoring in the court’s suggestions. After the pain inflicted by the pandemic India’s entertainment industry is resourcefully clawing back. But state censorship will hobble it even more brutally.

The challenge of censorship becomes clear in terms of the court’s other plaint, that in some cases OTT platforms are showing pornography in the name of movies. These platforms take Indian content to over 200 countries, a prodigious market opportunity. Unlike cinema theatres, this consumption is enveloped in privacy. In 2020 4G subscriptions surpassed 700 million. When the same content is varyingly received by this multitude as erotic or pornographic or romantic or artistic etc, a government led oversight authority making judgment on all their behalf would be dangerously undemocratic, besides destroying market opportunity.

This conversation was taking place in the context of Amazon Prime’s content chief seeking pre-arrest bail in the case against the web series Tandav, a plea that had been turned down by Allahabad high court despite the concerned scenes having been deleted. This is just one of the episodes in which a small but loud pro-censorship lobby crying hurt to its sentiments, easily derails a project that provides entertainment and livelihoods to many more constituencies. From thin-skinnedness of religion and caste to politics and sex, if India doesn’t self-correct it will damage our soft power incalculably. At a time when cultural industries from Korea to the UK are cracking the global game, let’s not shackle our storytellers. Let them also compete and win laurels worldwide. China may have beaten us in manufacturing, but this is one area we can beat China hollow. Let’s not seek to emulate China in this respect.

The way forward lies in OTT platforms implementing a self-regulation code, which includes global best practices in age-appropriate certification. Meanwhile the apex court that has been the beacon of  individual liberties and freedom of expression, must continue to protect them. Give wings to creativity, not manufactured outrage.

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This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.



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