India’s Supreme Court says favours controls on video streaming services

FILE PHOTO: Television journalists are seen outside the premises of the Supreme Court in New Delhi
FILE PHOTO: Television journalists are seen outside the premises of the Supreme Court in New Delhi, India, January 22, 2020. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis

March 4, 2021

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India’s top court on Thursday said it favoured a screening mechanism for online video streaming services, dominated in the country by Amazon and Netflix and which currently are aired freely.

The U.S. streaming platforms have faced complaints from lawmakers belonging to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationlist party and others that some of the shows promote obscenity or offend religious beliefs.

“We are of the view there should be some screening of these types (of content). What they are showing? They are showing pornography also,” Supreme Court Justice Ashok Bhushan said.

Traditional film viewing in India, home to the thriving Bollywood industry, has changed as fewer people go to cinema halls and web series have become common, Bhushan said.

The remarks came as the Supreme Court heard a plea from Amazon’s head of India content for Prime Video, Aparna Purohit, for protection against arrest in a case involving a controversial political drama “Tandav”, a Hindi word for “fury”.

Tandav stars top Bollywood actors but has been battling police and court cases which allege the show depicted Hindu gods in a derogatory manner and offended religious beliefs.

The court will continue to hear the case on Friday. Bhushan has asked the government and the platform to submit details of any regulations that currently govern online video platforms.

Content on these platforms is not subject to vetting. But the government has ordered that the platforms classify content into five categories based on the age groups it would be appropriate for.

Purohit’s counsel told the Supreme Court her case was one concerning freedom of expression. Last week, the executive was questioned for nearly four hours by police in Uttar Pradesh in a separate case filed against the show.

Purohit approached the apex court after a state court rejected her request for anticipatory bail, saying the Tandav series hurt religious sentiment and she must cooperate with police.

Amazon this week issued a rare public apology for “Tandav”, saying some scenes that were found objectionable had been edited or removed.

In January 2020, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos said Prime Video was doing well globally “but nowhere is it doing better than India”.

(Reporting by Shilpa Jamkhandikar, Aditya Kalra and Abhirup Roy; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)