The purpose of censorship and certification of audio-visual entertainment in India is not to restrict freedom of speech but to ensure that children do not get exposed to material that may be psychologically damaging.
The Information and Broadcasting (I&B) Ministry’s move to govern the Over-The-Top (OTT) platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney Plus Hotstar, etc. has been met with criticism from the champions of freedom of expression. While speculations indicate that the proposed censorship might be a restriction on the creative freedom of filmmakers, Rightantra highlights the importance of the regulation of OTT Platforms and suggests solutions to strike a balance between creative freedom and the well-being of children.
Uncertainty lingers around the infamous circular of the I&B Ministry since it does not lay down the details surrounding the regulation of OTT Platforms. Many experts believe that it would be similar to the Central Board of Film Certification’s (CBFC) model of censoring and certifying films. Let’s keep aside the shop talk and think of this situation from the perspective of the consumers.
While a majority of households still use DTH cable services, OTT platforms are rapidly becoming the go-to source of entertainment for many. The year 2020 saw a record 30% increase in the number of OTT platform subscribers following the outbreak of COVID-19. However, unlike TV which is regulated by the Cable TV Act, OTT platforms function as a liberal library of content and anything can be accessed by any user at any given time. As a result, kids can now readily access mature or age-inappropriate content which poses psychological harm.
Many parents express concern about screen addiction but often neglect the reasons behind it. Free access to content which is generally a taboo in many households and societies can now be enjoyed by the child in privacy. Unfortunately, children do not understand the consequences of watching extremely violent or hypersexualized content.
According to studies, overuse of the internet by the youth has been linked with several psychological conditions including anxiety, depression, and insomnia amongst others. Further, children who watch adult-targeted content are more likely to become sexually active at a young age (in their adolescence). It is important to understand that in most countries, including India, persons below the age of 18 years are not capable of giving sexual consent.
Seeing that teenagers make a devoted audience of inaccurate sex lives of the characters of many teen dramas, creators have been shooting their shots at increasing storylines with teen protagonists who live carefree and ‘happening’ lives.
This has led to overexposure to content that could potentially hamper a minor’s psychological growth and even go as far as mentally scar them. Studies show that the digital diet of children could actually desensitize them to violence and crime. Dr. Justin Coulson is of the opinion that children fail to see consequences while imitating the actions they viewed on such shows and films. He goes on to say, “empathy is reduced. Objectification is increased. Morality erodes.”
On the bright side, OTT platforms have started to understand the gravity of the situation and have rolled out features that allow parents to monitor and regulate the content watched by their children. Netflix has released a better version of parental control in Malaysia which allows parents to set a second password to their profile on the account where they have the power to regulate the content watched by their child.
While such a model is still to release in India, parents can take adopt the following measures to ensure that the child is not watching inappropriate content:
It is understandable why the I&B Ministry has made the move to regulate OTT platforms but such a move would only prevent filmmakers from creating edge-breaking (and even Emmy receiving) content. To prevent the exposure of age-inappropriate content, OTT platforms must get a self-regulation system in place and introduce advanced parental controls.
Moreover, the subscription fee for the services must only be paid from an adult’s account and not a minor’s. Let’s not forget that parents are in the best place to decide what their children can watch at home. The authors were not allowed to watch ‘Shinchan’, a kids’ show, when they were younger
The following article has been authored by Team Rightantra. You can find us at https://rightantra.weebly.com/. Make sure to follow us on our social media accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Linkedin, and Youtube (@Rightantra).