India’s censorship laws and online streaming


Censorship laws under the Cinematograph Act, 1952, and Cinematograph Rules, 1983, govern the public exhibition of films, and the Programme and Advertising Code prescribed under the Cable Television Network Rules, 1994, governs the broadcast of films on television. Certain laws such as the Indian Penal Code deal with the distribution of obscene content or crimes such as sedition, and it may be applicable to these popular online streaming platforms. However, there isn’t a specific law or regulation governing the censorship of content available on online streaming platforms such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.

Among the various options to regulate content on these online platforms, the government is exploring a self-regulation code that will govern content without government interference, or a monitored code that may require prior approval of the government before placing content on the platform. It remains to be seen whether these regulations will be aligned with existing censorship regulations, and whether they will be able to retain creative liberties, in light of the subjective standards of morality.

It is noteworthy that recently Netflix chose to take the unusual step of releasing a censored version of Mission: Impossible – Fallout for its Indian viewers, although viewers of other countries had an uncensored release. It is unusual because Netflix has never released theatrically censored adaptions of Hollywood films before. While Netflix has not commented on why it has taken such a move, it seems to be fairly clear that it does not intend to upset Indian viewers, who have varied cultures and beliefs.

With the passage of time and evolution of society, various art forms have come into existence, and creators of such art forms have a constitutional right under article 19 of the Indian Constitution to express their art form and exhibit their opinions and views in any legitimate manner that they may deem fit, as long as it is within the purview and ambit of the prohibitions mentioned under article 19(2) of the Indian Constitution.

Such modern art forms do contain diverse elements such as history, violence, sex, nudity and alternate history, all of which are considered taboo in Indian society. These elements are integral for the making of progressive-minded content such as The Man in the High Castle, Game of Thrones, House of Cards and many more shows that are available on over the top (OTT) platforms.

If Indian censorship laws are applied to censor new-age forward-thinking content, then it could essentially put an end to them being broadcast to Indian audiences, and it may also lead to widespread piracy. For this reason, it is not advisable to have extensive censorship laws for such content.

Pranav Shroff
Assistant Manager (Legal), Axis Bank


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