PIL Filed in the Bombay High Court Seeking Regulation of Online Content to Curb Increasing Nudity, Obscenity and Violence in Web Series

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On Friday, the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court issued a notice to the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting over a plea seeking regulation of online content, PTI reported.

A division bench comprising of Justice Dharmadhikari and Justice Biradkar was hearing the PIL filed by Advocate Divya Gontia; that concerned a web series titled “Gandi Baat” currently streaming on Balaji Telefilm’s OTT offering “ALTBalaji”. Referring to a particular scene in the show where a man is sexually harassing his daughter-in-law; the petitioner stated that the show is offensive to women and expresses ideas that are indecent and lewd.

The PIL also cited an example of the popular Netflix India original series “Sacred Games” using highly vulgar language to depict the underworld and exhibits sexually unpleasant scenes that are indecent beyond permissible limits. The plea further stated that more importance is being given to nudity, obscenity and vulgarity than the original plot just to grab attention and divert viewers to such platforms.

The petitioner urged to set up an independent pre-screening committee to regulate and monitor the crudity, indecency, nudity, vulgarity, obscenity in content (including advertisements), before releasing them on online media. It calls for restraining internet service providers from advertising and promoting such content on online platforms including social media.

The PIL further requests for appropriate measures to ensure stricter parental control to prevent children from accessing to adult content online.

Lastly, the PIL seeks action against all websites for broadcasting content containing “obscene, nude and vulgar scenes” and argued that it is a cognizable offence under the Cinematograph Act, Indian Penal Code, Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act and Information Technology Act.

The court has issued notices to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, Ministry of Law and Justice and Ministry of Home Affairs seeking replies and adjourned the matter to October 31, 2018.

Interestingly, the petition argues a violation of the Cinematographic Act. We had earlier posted a blog that analyses this proposition in detail (which can be accessed here). In this blog, we had stated that – “this would be a dangerous interpretation and open a can of worms. Even though ‘public exhibition’ has not been defined under the Cinematograph Act, 1952, the Act intends to regulate cinematographic films for public exhibition in a place licensed under Section 10 of the Act. A concerned legislation which deals with a particular platform, may require that a film shown on the platform should be certified by CBFC for public exhibition. Therefore, the Cinematograph Act cannot regulate content on cable services or internet platforms but the concerned regulations governing these platforms can. In the absence of any such regulation, the OTT platforms still remain unregulated.”

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Very recently, the Netflix original “Sacred Games” ran into legal trouble when a petition had been filed in the Delhi High Court seeking deletion of certain scenes in the web-series that allegedly contained derogatory remarks made against the former Prime Minister ‘Rajiv Gandhi’ and/or his family. While hearing this petition, the bench observed that criticism and expression of dissatisfaction were permissible, and it would not want to curtail anyone’s right. The bench further said “It could be a private injury. It can’t be a public injury. We pass directions, only when we find any violation.” The court remarked that freedom of speech is on a higher pedestal even when someone is criticising people associated with politics, adding that it is the viewer’s choice what they want to see. This update can be read here.

With the growing number of OTT platforms, viewers subscribing/diverting to such platforms every second and overzealous litigants in India, there is a pressing need for clarity on content regulation in this space.

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