OTT regulations a necessity as some even show porn, says SC

The scenes that caused offence have since been deleted, and the makers as well as the OTT company have apologised.
PUBLISHED ON MAR 05, 2021 02:49 AM IST
But the bench was emphatic that before it examined Purohit’s bail plea, it would want to take a look at the regulations, which were notified by the central government on February 25.(Sonu Mehta/HT PHOTO)

The Supreme Court on Thursday said regulations of over the top (OTT) service providers such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video have become a necessity since some of them even show pornography in the absence of a proper oversight, comments that come shortly after the government put in place a three-tier regulatory mechanism for such companies, and also mandated certification of their content.

The court, hearing a pre-arrest bail plea by Amazon Prime’s content chief Aparna Purohit used the words “screening” and “regulation” with reference to the content.

The top court expressed its concerns over lack of “screening” before shows and movies were aired on OTT platforms while hearing Purohit’s plea in connection with the ongoing investigation in Uttar Pradesh against the web series Tandav.

“Traditional film viewing has now become obsolete. People watching movies and shows on the internet has become very common. Our query is whether these views should be screened,”asked the SC bench of justices Ashok Bhushan and R Subhash Reddy while taking up Purohit’s anticipatory bail plea.

The Uttar Pradesh Police filed an FIR against the top Amazon Prime executive (and others associated with the show) for alleged derogatory depiction of Hindu deities and promoting religious enmity through the series. The scenes that caused offence have since been deleted, and the makers as well as the OTT company have apologised.

Representing Purohit in the apex court, senior counsel Mukul Rohatgi and Sidharth Luthra, said that rules have recently been notified by the central government, prescribing a structure to be set up for regulation of OTT platforms. They added that most of the OTT platforms, including Amazon Prime Video, were paid platforms and it could safely be presumed that adults, who paid for their subscriptions, were the ones able to watch shows and movies.

“The facts of this case are shocking. Look at the FIR, please. She is an employee of Amazon but the company has not been made an accused. Actors, producer, scriptwriter are the accused along with her but the company has not been made an accused anywhere. There are cases filed across the country by some publicity seekers,” complained Rohatgi.

Luthra emphasised that Amazon Prime Video had not only removed the contentious scenes but has issued formal apologies, the most recent one on Tuesday in which it said the video streaming platform “again deeply regrets that viewers considered certain scenes to be objectionable in the recently launched fictional series Tandav.”

But the bench was emphatic that before it examined Purohit’s bail plea, it would want to take a look at the regulations, which were notified by the central government on February 25.

The court then asked solicitor general Tushar Mehta, appearing for the UP government, to submit the regulations before it on Friday when the hearing resumes. “...We are of the view that some screening should take place. In fact, some platforms even show pornography. There has to be some regulations,” commented the bench.

Mehta submitted that some of the web series used “filthy language and lots of abuses” while Rohatgi tried to argue that these regulations would not be relevant for deciding Purohit’s bail plea since the FIR against her was filed in January, before the new rules had come into force.

The bench, however, said it would examine the rules before taking a call on the bail plea.

Purohit moved the top court after the Allahabad high court on February 25 declined to give her protection from arrest while noting that “such people make the revered figures of the religion of majority community source of earning money in a most brazen manner taking benefit of the liberal and tolerant tradition of the country.”

Earlier, on January 27, the top court refused to quash the seven first information reports (FIRs) registered against the actors, makers and Purohit for allegedly offending religious feelings, while declining their plea for interim protection from arrest.

It rejected the pleas by Bollywood actor Zeeshan Ayyub, Purohit, Tandav director Ali Abbas Zafar, its producer Himanshu Kishan Mehra and writer Gaurav Solanki, directing them to go to five different high courts where the FIRs and criminal complaints were pending.

FIRs and criminal complaints were registered in Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Bihar, Maharashtra, Delhi and Chandigarh

On February 25, the Centre notified rules that will govern online content.

The rules envisage a three-tier regulatory framework, which will apply to social media, digital media, and OTT companies: self-regulation; a body like the Press Council of India headed by a retired judge of the Supreme Court; and, at the apex, an oversight body of the government, with an inter-ministerial committee to ensure adherence to the norms. Besides, OTT platforms will also have to self-classify the content into five age-based categories: U (Universal), U/A 7 years, U/A 13 years, U/A 16 years, and A (Adult), in addition to providing a mechanism of parental lock in their services.

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