The Bombay High Court’s Nagpur bench has entertained a plea by a Mumbai resident demanding that web series be regulated, the Hindustan Times reports. The petitioner, Divya Gontiya, has asked for a ‘pre-screening body’ along the lines of the censor board for web series. “The screening of pornographic contents, vulgar gestures and talks are overriding the Indian culture and morality,” the PIL is quoted as saying.
This comes as Nikhil Bhalla, the Congress member who sued Netflix over dialogues defaming ex-PM Rajiv Gandhi, also amended his own PIL at the Delhi High Court to include a similar demand. The Bombay High Court petition also mentions Sacred Games, claiming that Netflix is trying to get an edge over Amazon Prime Video with nudity and obscenity, the Hindu reported.
The case was filed under the IT Act and under the Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act. The latter act was amended earlier this year to include digital media, a move we warned would backfire the way it has with this PIL:
While the IRWA has been mostly aimed at regulating mainstream media, India hasn’t had a perfect record on that front either. In this Caravan piece, the author Rosalyn D’Mello brings up the example of a Wild Stone ad where a woman in a train has a risqué fantasy of dominating a co-passenger. The I&B Ministry banned the ad, citing a 1994 cable TV rule that reads very similarly to the IRWA — right down to the morals and the decency. This, in spite of the fact that it was the woman who was having the fantasy and effectively the power over the (imaginary) situation. There are multiple other ads that have been banned on the same grounds.
It’s important to ask — is this what the government wants to prevent? Women having power and sexual agency?
The PIL also mentions Gandii Baat, an ALT Balaji show. We have reached out to ALT Balaji for comment.
The law on regulating web series
The Information & Broadcasting Ministry set up a panel to come up with rules to regulate online content, and included online entertainment content under that panel’s ambit. That panel was disbanded after Smriti Irani was removed from the I&B Ministry, and that panel’s remit went to a pre-existing IT Ministry committee, which is looking into a whole range of issues including fake news and investment in critical national infrastructure. There is no law requiring online censorship of content in India. The Censor Board’s remit also does not extend to online content, even as streaming services like Amazon Prime Video and Hotstar choose to put the theatrical cuts of films online.
The IT Act gives courts wide authority to determine what content online is obscene, and punish platforms accordingly. The amount of power IRWA has on digital content is yet to be tested. Both the Delhi High Court and Bombay High Court are now testing this law.