We urge for a rethink on the proposed self-censorship norms for video streaming platforms

A new proposal for self-censorship for online streaming platforms is being privately considered for endorsement by the Government. It is likely to lead to greater censorship and throttle creativity and freedom of speech.

17 January, 2019
3 min read

Highlights

  • Self-censorship on online streaming platforms: There have been reports of growing self-censorship on online streaming platforms in India. In a front-page report in yesterday's Economic Times and a longer narrative present in The Ken, it has been revealed that IAMAI an industry body for internet companies, has developed a self-regulatory code and sought endorsement by the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting and the Ministry of Electronics and IT.
  • Importing TV censorship to Internet streaming: Online video streaming services is a an evolving sector of discovery and choice for Indians. It is viewed privately increasingly on smartphones and offers  diversity not available to audiences on television or cinema due to overbearing censorship. To import a TV style self-censorship system would tremendously hurt consumer choice and freedom of speech.
  • Clear and present danger: We in our email and letter to the IAMAI have explained how this self-regulatory mechanism is bad for online streaming platforms, producers, artists and most importantly the audience. This will formalise a system of pre-censorship and subsequent complaints in categories of restricted content that will only grow in time. As per press reports the Government has not yet endorsed this measure and we are examining steps for them not to give it their, "endorsement".

Our analysis

This post is not about Game of Thrones, Sacred Games or Mirzapur. But it is. A lot of Indians are today turning off the television set and increasingly logging onto online streaming platforms. Here they are getting a wide diversity and choice of content that they had been denied till now. A lot of this has to do with the nature of online content streaming which also facilitates at its very core a wider range of ideas and expressions that have been heavily censored and prohibited in cinemas and on TV Channels.

At this crucial time, as per a report in yesterday's Economic Times and The Ken, the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) has proposed “Code of Best Practices for Online Curated Content Providers” and sought endorsement by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) and the Ministry for Electronics and Information Technology (MIETY). As we set out in our letter of concern to IAMAI, we call on them to reconsider this proposal, it creates a de-facto censorship mechanism which will only become more pervasive in time. This will be to the detriment of the entire online video streaming sector.

While some forms of self-censorship by individual platforms can fall within acceptable norms of international human rights norms, to have an expansive category that grows in time with a reporting mechanism will be visiting a harsher, TV style system.

As we have explained further in our letter this proposed system is modelled after a the Television self-regulatory system with similarity in some core features. This will tremendously harm freedom of speech and expression furthered through online web streaming platforms. Given there is no clear identifiable public policy objective and IAMAI is seeking not only a government endorsement, but also a ratification by which any complaints to the MIETY should be forwarded to the online video companies, we call for a rethink on this proposal. For a legal analysis on how self-censorship is harmful read this blogpost by the CCG, Delhi.

At present we have written to the IAMAI and are further examining steps to call on both the MIB and MIETY not to take further action on this. This becomes more important given that both government ministries have filed responses in different litigations indicating that there is no statutory power vested in them to exercise any censorship on online video streaming. This is a position which is consistent with our free speech guarantees under the Constitution of India though much more needs to be done to protect them.

Yes, we must not buffer TV censorship to online streaming platforms.

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  • Our Work: We are a civil liberties advocacy organisation focussing on technology and fundamental rights. Working across the spectrum -- with expertise in free speech, digital surveillance and privacy, net neutrality and innovation -- we champion human freedom in the digital space. Our aim is to ensure that people in the world's largest democracy are able to use technology with liberty and justice guaranteed under the Constitution of India.
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