A representative for the Chennai-headquartered streaming service SunNXT told Entrackr that creating a grievance redressal mechanism to complain about shows and films on streaming services in India is not a requirement that has legal force.
“While such a mechanism has, nevertheless, been put in place by us, however, the dynamics of the same, including but not limited to the requirement to publish reports as sought by you, is not a requirement of the law,” Ponnambalam J, Deputy General Manager of Digital at Sun Networks told Entrackr in response to a request for statistics on complaints Sun Networks received from users about content on the streaming platform. Ponnambalam explained that the relevant provisions had been stayed by three separate High Courts.
The cases in the high courts have been transferred to the Supreme Court, where the matter is still underway; but the stays on some parts of the Rules seem to still be active.
While the stays on the parts of Rules that mandate streaming service to facilitate user complaints has been known for months, OTTs have largely complied with these requirements anyway, and have avoided celebrating or even acknowledging the High Courts’ stay, let alone moving to challenging them like news publishers and individual activists and journalists have.
SunNXT’s statement is the first explicit acknowledgement from the industry that the IT Rules don’t apply to them, and that they are therefore not any more subject to streaming regulations than they were before February 2021. Some members of the industry have only admitted this anonymously to Mint’s media and entertainment correspondent.
“Exerting executive control over OTT content will lead to over-compliance and self-censorship on part of platforms, who will be keen to avoid the wide discretion allowed to the government when it comes to punishments,” the Internet Freedom Foundation said in an analysis in March, before the high courts struck down some of the IT Rules’ provisions.
The background of how streaming services have succumbed to majoritarian pressures even before the IT Rules may shed some light on why they are now complying with a law that may not even have legal force.
Starting six years ago, when Amazon Prime Video launched in India, the service was heavily censored, with licensed films blurring nudity and deleting a scene from a show featuring a bovine skeleton. This came even as the government said at that time that it had no proposal in place to censor streaming services. When Apple TV+ launched in India, it featured censored titles as well.
Even Netflix, which exercised almost no censorship powers at the time, and even released uncensored versions of Indian films, briefly put out the theatrical censored cut of Angry Indian Goddesses in India, even as other countries got the uncut version.
There are over a dozen documented examples of streaming services proactively censoring content for Indian audiences, including cutting scenes, withholding episodes of shows that might upset Indian viewers, putting up theatrical cuts instead of uncut versions that can legally be distributed online, and canceling a show release altogether following protests.
Arguably the largest flashpoint has been the police scrutiny of Amazon Prime Video executive Aparna Purohit, who had to go to the Supreme Court to seek protection from arrest following political pushback against the series Tandav. “What happened with Aparna was scary and had affected the industry. Nobody wants to go through what she went through,” a filmmaker told Newslaundry.
The long history of caution may explain why streaming services are reluctant to defy a law to regulate their industry, even if the courts have struck it down.