On 11 November, the news came out that Union Government of India has decided to bring OTT (Over the top) platforms or video streaming service providers such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and others under the control of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. Digital content was under purview of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology until on Wednesday, a notification issued and signed by President Ram Nath Kovind explained that online films, digital news and current affairs will now be reviewed by Information and Broadcasting Ministry, headed by Prakash Javadekar.
Sweta Singh, Professor of Mass communication in Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University told Eat News, she thinks it is preposterous to comment on the government’s decision as it is not clear what will be the nature of this inclusion of OTT platforms. She said, “It is speculated to impact the OTT work culture, content and revenue structures as there could be some regulatory framework offing. However, because internet is very different from the legacy structures of broadcasting, it is important that the government ensures proactive engagement with the stakeholders to meet the unique demands of internet. For viewers, it is not a great news in my opinion.”
She shared her views on whether people will observe change in terms of content, “Any policy decision is likely to impact the production process, jobs, revenue sources and distribution frameworks of the content getting created by the OTT platforms. The rise of OTT viewership substantiates that viewers are looking for diverse content that goes beyond the predictively formats, genres and treatments. Because, internet slows the freedom to experiment with subjects, it connects with the viewers. So, governments invention will affect the content, but it too early to say that.”
Since the decision got announced, people have expressed their disagreement on social media about it. Karan Anshuman, known for his direction of “Mirzapur“, one of the remarkable Indian web series and “Inside Edge” shared his views on Twitter on 11 November 2020, “Unacceptable. Viewers and creators have to band together and challenge censorship in any and every manner!“ Director Rahul Dholakia tweeted, “Forget Bihar, Arnab, Biden, Diwali. This is the news that’s going to control the way we think! It’s like Dracula is the president of the blood bank! RIP creativity“. Independent content will suffer through this, is something people are scared of. According to Sweta Singh, “I agree. A lot of content whether on OTT or news websites are getting generated by independent film makers and journalists who do not have a fixed revenue model and high commitment towards the content. As you see, with independent news organizations coming together under Digipub, as stakeholders, their voices are yet to be included.“
Due to the regulations that will be set by the government, independent content will have to go through a chain according to Manohar Naik, editor by profession. He said, ”It is a deal breaker, I guess. I mean we talked on how OTT is and could act as a democratic playing field for all the creators out there but our beloved government is not very happy and wants to control the overall narrative. I don’t know how they will mend the rules but it is a big setback for anyone who wishes to voice out their stories, their views and make a film, video, write and express.”
The government had earlier objected to the kind of content being released on digital platforms and indicated the need of self-regulation. Following to which in January 2019, more than 10 streaming platforms including Netflix, Disney+ Hotstar, ZEE5, Amazon prime video, Alt Balaji and Shemaroo adopted and agreed to update measures under Universal self-regulation code for OCCPs (online curated content providers).
“Self-regulation is the only way forward. A set of professionals, bureaucrats and judges can come together to form a body that may look into the uniqueness of the medium and can lay down the possible concerns and ways of tackling them. Too much government’s impositions may adversely impact independent ventures and their decision-making processes“, said Sweta.
Whereas Anweshak Tejendra, Editor-in-chief of The Envoy Web said, “We believe that content on the internet should not be strictly regulated. And the regulatory authority should not be the same as television because the audience and content are drastically different. However, there should be an age limit, such as Netflix’s maturity ratings which divide different titles into age brackets, 13+, 16+ and 18+ for example.”
There is an evident shift to digital platforms not only because of the campaign ”Digital India” but also because of the diverse and versatile content it is providing to the audience in terms of entertainment and sensibility altogether. And now regulating content will have great impact on Indians as audio-visual content is considered as one of the aspects that helps in shaping the opinion. To which Sweta said, ”It will definitely alter the nature of the bouquet of content that these platforms offer. I think the very nature of internet allows freedom and it is the responsibility of the government to ensure that the choice is inherently decided by the producers, journalists and the users of the platforms. If the nature of content changes, it is likely to alter how it gets received by the users.”
The ministry was already regulating the news and entertainment content of television and radio according to their codes but now taking digital content under them has been disturbing for lot of people associated directly or indirectly with the digital industry.
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