Will popular media streaming services like Netflix and Hotstar be censored?


Content streaming services like Netflix, Hotstar, and Amazon Prime are facing the prospect of government censorship of the content. The regulation of digital streaming services could affect the quality of content driving away customers, industry observers say. The verdict would also affect online streaming services of mobile companies like Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea, and Reliance Jio.

The Supreme Court on Friday sought the central government's response to a petition seeking the regulation of the content featured on media streaming platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hotstar, media reports say.

A bench of the court headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi issued a notice to the ministries of information and broadcasting and law and justice the petition that sought the framing of guidelines for these over-the-top (OTT) platforms as they showed "uncertified, sexually explicit, and vulgar" content.

The petition was filed by Justice for Rights, a non-governmental organisation, whose earlier petition was dismissed by the Delhi High Court. The centre then informed the court that online platforms were neither required to obtain a licence from the ministry of information and broadcasting nor were its content regulated by it. The ministry of law and justice had also said the matter was outside its domain, reports said.

The high court also observed that since the law did not require such platforms to acquire a licence, it could not direct them to obtain such a licence. The high court also suggested that the petitioner could approach the law enforcement authorities against specific cases of violation of decency.

Election 2019 section on Airtel TV will be offered in multi-lingual options
Election 2019 section on Airtel TV will be offered in multi-lingual options KVN Rohit/IBTimes India

The petitioner alleged that content violated provisions of the Indian Penal Code and the Information Technology Act and these platforms were displaying unlicensed, unregulated and uncertified content. It alleged that online platforms were streaming content vulgar, sexually explicit, pornographic, profane, and unethical content.

The petitioner said the high court's order resulted from a "myopic appreciation" of the petition and not on merits. As per the high court judgment of February 2, the petitioner could pursue remedies that are available only after the content was broadcast, the petition said. It said that the absence of guidelines created a special class of broadcasters who discriminated against customers, cable television providers, and direct-to-home operators. A similar plea pending before the Karnataka High Court also seeks the regulation of the content of online streaming services like Netflix, Hotstar, and Amazon Prime Video.