When the now burgeoning segment of online streaming services was brought under the purview of the I&B Ministry in India last year, everyone understood that it was only a matter of time before some kind of rules kick in for censoring the content that are put out by the OTT platforms.

The recent raging controversies surrounding some of the stuff purveyed in the web series Tandav and Mirzapur 2 seem to have hastened the process. 

The Union I&B Minister Prakash Javadekar has said that his Ministry would soon release guidelines for the streaming platforms in view of a number of complaints against the content showcased by them.

He added: “We have received a lot of complaints against some serials available on OTT platforms. Films and serials released on OTT platforms and digital newspapers do not come under the purview of the Press Council Act, Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act or Censor Board. We will come up with some guidelines on it soon,” Javadekar was quoted as saying.

What the guidelines would cover?

As the Minister said, there is no specific law for digital content providers and news platforms. And the segment was not directly regulated by any particular ministry till government thought it fit to bring it under the ambit of Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. Till then, they were governed by the Information Technology Act, 2000.

Earlier last year, proposals for self-regulation mooted by the apex body of internet and mobile service providers didn’t find favour with the government that believed it is far too flexible.

The OTT platforms had mooted a two-tier structure for self-regulation where the second would be a complaint redress forum, which would be chaired by a retired judge of the Supreme Court or High Court. However, in the absence of a pre-defined set of guidelines on what constitutes prohibited content, there could be no clarity on the matter.

Now the I&B ministry is expected to come out with a bunch of guidelines as to which kind of content is kosher and which aren’t. It is expected to be similar to the Film Censor Board.

For the record, Indian Censor Board guidelines that cover films include a ban on glorification of anti-social activities and criminal acts, involvement of children in violent acts, abuse or ridicule of specially-abled people, cruelty to animals, scenes encouraging alcohol consumption, smoking etc. vulgarity and obscenity and sexual violence, denigration of race and religion.

Misgivings over some content on OTT platforms

The fact of the matter is in a conservative country like India, despite the growing openness, there is some queasiness over some of the content available on some OTT platforms.

It is not politically sensitive content alone that had lead to raised eyebrows. Some sexually explicit material had also drawn the ire of people and powers that be.

In the event, digital content monitoring had become inevitable. It is an unsavoury prospect, but it was always on cards in the wake of recent developments.