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What a rapidly changing world we are experiencing! One of the many subsequent children of the internet revolution is the over-the-top platform– OTT that has now overtaken the task done by television through cable, satellite, etc. and we are already wondering whether television will be the next thing to start fading into the past!

OTT platforms are audio & video hosting and streaming services offered directly to viewers via the internet. They may have started out as content hosting platforms but now, they have ventured into the production and release of short movies, feature films, documentaries & web-series themselves.The most popular ones in India today are Netflix, Amazon Prime & Hotstar.

Unlike the content provided by cinema for theatrical release or that on television that is regulated by CBFC, BCCC, etc., the OTT platforms had no regulatory body to control the content streamed and had thus been enjoying their freedom.

What is frequently in discussion in a democracy? -Freedoms. The artistes’& the media’s the most, perhaps. We know where freedoms exist, restrictions are bound to come.

What happens when these freedoms are restricted? -The debate on whether the restriction is reasonable & constitutional ensues.

In India, art work has been subject to the scissors based on public sentiments, morality& public interest. Some deem this censorship important to maintain social harmony & morality standards while others see intolerance & narrow-mindedness in the curbs.

Some demands to implement a censorship regime on the OTT platforms had started to be made. The freedom enjoyed by these platforms and their content creators had to be discussed, considering their rights had increasingly started to potentially conflict with those of the consumers and the public at large. Golmej believes in being a platform for the discussion of topics that matter to us- those that must be discussed openly to understand and address the issues. “Censorship of OTT platforms” was the February Golmej topic.

In apre-Golmej talk with the presenter for the month, Eshan, he told us he felt that Golmej, as a platform that facilitates free deliberation, provided a great way to discuss such a debatable topic. He outlined the importance of the role of the presenter in including the various opinions and arguments regarding the topic in the presentation: the presentation should be able to give the viewers an all-round picture of the topic based on authentic sources of information so that they candraw their own perspectives based on it. The fact that Golmej is getting people to openly address such a topic itself is a win, he said.

On an online Golmej poll, 83% of viewers had voted to say it is possible to protect public order, decency, morality & promote respect for all without affecting artistic freedom and scholarship.

On February 20th, Golmej went live. This time, on YouTube alongside Facebook! Now you can watch all the Golmej episodes here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCJJ9OSxi–xj_kjozhScv0A . You’ll surely remember to subscribe.

This Golmej discussion opened with trying to understand the increased popularity of the OTTs and the controversies some of its content had recently found itself embroiled into.Allegations against its content had included publishing of obscene and offensive content and hurtingsentiments of certain communities. We looked at how these new popular entertainment sources had enjoyed greater freedom of content to publish with no specific law having been in place to regulate them.

The presentation had shown how theIntermediary guidelines under the Information Technology Rules werein fact applicable to these platforms. These guidelines curb the spread of inappropriate online content.

The Internet & Mobile Association of India had proposed a self-regulatory model for the OTTs to protect interests of consumers & content creators and to provide a redressal mechanism for complaints against any inappropriate content. This code was rejected by the Union Information & Broadcasting Ministry that later decided to bring these platforms under its control.

We had held this Golmej five days before the Government of India actually went ahead to notify rules to regulate OTTs.

Participants Dr. Nidhi and Dr. Suhrud presented their takes on the topic. The discussion came to the concerns with the OTT content that has beenobserved to impactthe physical, mental & behavioral conditions especially of the millennials and young adults who watch the content on these platformsmore. A visible decrease in sensitivity to violence or abusive language as a result of greater exposure was discussed.

The participants opined that censorship has the risk of becoming a tool to curtail artistic freedoms based on the authority’s political inclinations and the social context and hence censorship by government authorities did not look favourable in the interest of liberty.

OTTs are a source of content accessibility without borders. This means content from across the world can be viewed by the Indian audience. Then the debate turned to the implications of importing from diverse cultures.

A comparison was made between India and the developed states of the West in terms of public sensitivity to potentially offensive content. Needless to say, Indian audiences were deemed more prone to being sensitive and getting offended and hence censorship & regulatory regimes in India have been more stringent than in the West. Another comparative discussion made was between OTT platforms and other media including printmedia and how greater popularity brings greater possibility of censorship.

Participants agreed that with the OTT platforms’ creative content had found greater freedoms that run the risk of curtailment with censorship. Hence, they deemed a self-regulatory mechanism for them suitable. They observed how it is ultimately the public that decides what kind of content they want to watch as also what they would like prevented from public viewing.

This was the 7th episode of Golmej. Tracing the journey so far that we had undertaken based on the philosophy of open debates and informed opinion-making, the Golmej page saw a live talk with a previous participant: Aaditee!

Aaditee gave insights on the current challenge of lack of informed opinion making compounded by misinformation & disinformation among the masses. We now recognize the importance of the right process of opinions forming after understanding all perspectives of a topic. Ultimately, it is an individual prerogative to do so. The change starts with you! Golmej has taken the initiative to be a platform to facilitate this change and push this very culture of informed opinion making & unbiased debates. This strengthens democracy.

On that note, let us tell you that our viewers have democratically voted in a Facebook poll to decide the topic for the March Golmej!! We’re discussing “Climate Change: a cycle, a damage or a hoax?” There couldn’t be a more urgently important topic to discuss now. Let’s discuss…

20th February 2021, Saturday

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