PIL alleges OTT platforms abusing right to expression: SC issues notice to Centre

The petitioner claimed that no censoring has allowed filmmakers to ‘experiment limitless due to which there is more violence, sex scenes, obscene language and characters smoking on screen’.
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A public interest litigation (PIL) filed in the Supreme Court has alleged that over-the-top or streaming platforms, including Amazon Prime, Netflix and Disney+Hotstar, among others are expoiting the right to expression as they do not have an institution to monitor and manage the content on these media platforms. Admitting the PIL, the apex court sought response from the Union government, on Thursday. According to the PIL, none of the OTT/streaming platforms has signed the self-regulation provided by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting since February.

The PIL, filed by advocate Shashank Shekhar Jha, contended "no censoring allows exploitation of creative liberty and pushes for more ideas to get incorporated which, in turn, let writers, directors, and producers experiment limitless due to which there has been more violence, sex scenes, obscene language & even characters smoking on screen - that would normally be cut or displayed alongside health warnings".

The petitioner told the top court that due to no monitoring body, the language of the content has become "more colloquial". "Visuals and dialogues are cruel and more barbaric. It is pertinent to note that this artistic liberty with no checks and balances also gets highly misused for commercial benefits of the OTT/Platforms," it said.

A bench, comprising Chief Justice SA Bobde and Justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian, after a brief hearing in the matter, issued notices to the Union government, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and Internet and the Mobile Association of India.

"The OTT platforms in India abuses the right to expression granted in Article 19, thus is against Right to Life of people at large (Article 21)," said the petitioner.

The plea also said the Internet and Mobile Association of India pushed through the self-regulatory code (Tier Two Version), which would lead to the setting up of a Digital Content Complaints Committee (DCCC) for regulating content on OTT/streaming platforms across India, without much deliberation and consensus.

"However, Respondent No 3's (Internet and Mobile Association of India) flagship India Digital Summit event was attended by only five signatories on the February 5, while various other OTT/Streaming Platforms wrote to Respondent No 3 recording their dissent to the code asking for reconsideration in the code itself," said the plea.

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