“Some OTT platforms at times show pornographic content which requires a screening mechanism” said the Supreme Court in relation to the recent backlash against an online show that allegedly mocked Hindu deities. The court stated that some sort of balance has to be struck to regulate such objectionable content.
The Amazon Prime web series, Tandav, has been facing the fire since January 19, when a case was filed against the show’s makers at the Rabapura police station in Greater Noida, accusing them of denigrating Hindu gods and goddesses. 10 FIRs were filed in Uttar Pradesh, and several others in different states since the political thriller released on Amazon Prime on January 15. These actions come after several activists and BJP politicians wrote to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) about their concerns.
The perpetrators named in the FIR are actors Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub and Saif Ali Khan, director Ali Abbas Zafar, producer Farhan Akhtar, and creative head of Amazon Prime Video in India, Aparna Purohit under Indian Penal Code (IPC) sections 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on the basis of religion, race, birthplace, residence, language), 295 (desecrating a place of worship with intent to insult a religion), 505 (1) (B) (public statements with intent to cause, or which is likely to cause, fear among the public whereby any person may be incited to commit an offence against the State or disrupt public tranquility) and 469 (forgery for the purpose of harming reputation) and some sections of the newly reformed IT act.
Acknowledging the concerns brought forth by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, the makers of the show issued an apology and vowed to implement changes keeping in line with religious sentiments. BJP leaders continue to rally for a complete ban of the series, while the opposition and other parties claim that the BJP is only trying to divert attention from the ongoing protests by the farmers in and around Delhi.
The multi-star cast that includes Saif Ali Khan, Twinkle Khanna and other Bollywood bigwigs contains a scene where, in a college play, Sage Narad advises Lord Shiva to make inflammatory tweets on Twitter to incite students to riot for freedom. According to the Allahabad High Court bench headed by Justice Siddharth, this scene represents the protests held at Jawaharlal Nehru University in January 2020 and was deemed disrespectful.
The judge also said that the name of the series itself, ‘Tandav’, was considered an offence to sentiments of the religious majority in the country. According to Hindu scriptures, Tandav is a dance form said to have been performed by the divine gods and goddesses.
A hearing for Aparna Purohit’s anticipatory bail plea has been scheduled for Friday. The plea was initially rejected on February 25 by the Allahabad High Court on the grounds of Purohit “not co-operating with the investigation” despite being granted interim protection. The HC also said that “the applicant’s conduct shows that she has scant respect for the law and her conduct further disentitles her to any relief from this court since co-operating with the investigation is required for grant of anticipatory bail’.
Purohit’s plea stated that the series was a work of fiction and was not targeted at or intended to hurt any religious sentiments. The court said that a mere disclaimer that it is a work of fiction does not justify allowing the streaming of such objectionable content online.
The court also stated that Hindi content creators’ tendency to disrespect and poorly depict Hindu gods and goddesses must be curbed to avoid ‘disastrous consequences for the Indian social, religious and communal order’.
Over-the-top (OTT) platforms have recently been brought under the control of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting following a government directive that called for regulation of online media, including news and entertainment content.
The rules call for a three-level grievance redressal mechanism consisting of the publisher, a self-regulating body constituted by the publishers, and an oversight mechanism of the government. The OTT platforms are also required to follow a code of ethics that includes five age-based classifications.
MIB Minister said that there would be no government-appointed official in the self-regulatory body. However, the ministry will continue to work closely with the platforms to provide a smooth OTT experience for all.
These reforms to the initial self-regulation policies adopted by the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) come after the furor caused by the Tandav web series. The Supreme Court has asked the Centre to submit the new regulatory guidelines on Friday, the day of the plea hearing.