Alarm bells for OTT

Just when the content on over-the-top (OTT) platforms was being hailed as an elixir for the artistic community, the government, it seems, has decided to clip its wings. As soon as the news of online news portals and streaming services coming under the ambit of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting broke in November, tremors have been felt in the entertainment industry. Now there are more reasons for both the makers and streamers to rue. The code of ethics that the government is contemplating does not appear to be a mere guideline. The three-tier regulatory framework, including an inter-ministerial committee, it has proposed almost seems draconian on paper.

Proposals like parental lock, rating system and even the rules that suggest that the content should not impact India’s sovereignty and unity are acceptable norms. However, much of the regulations and the qualifying words such as ‘due caution and discretion’ as well as ‘potentially offensive impact of a film on matters of caste, race, gender, religion, disability, or sexuality’ are open to subjective interpretation and could lead to a witch-hunt. Ironically, without the regulations too, producers have had to face flak. A case in point is the web-series ‘Tandav’; even after the makers edited out the scenes that some thin-skinned had taken umbrage at, the streaming platform, director and the cast have been embroiled in legal battles.

In a country where mainstream cinema as a rule churns out formulaic content, OTT had become a byword for creative liberty, quality and the go-to medium for hordes of viewers seeking alternatives to syrupy dramas. For the government to play moral nanny in an age where art knows no barriers is as perplexing as unwarranted. Or maybe, the move comes riding on political agendas. One can only hope that wiser counsel prevails before proposals fructify into rules. Instead of paying heed to the hyperventilating brigade of naysayers, the government would do well to factor in the views and interests of the stakeholders, for whom OTT has been the proverbial breath of fresh air.

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