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    Gujarat HC stays the release of Netflix film ‘Maharaj’ until next hearing

    The Gujarat High Court has ordered a stay on the release of the film ‘Maharaj’ on Netflix for alleged “scandalous and defamatory language” against the devotees of Lord Krishna and Pustimargi sect. The petition filed against the movie alleged that the movie would “incite feelings of hatred and violence against the Pustimargi sect” which they claim would be in breach of the code of ethics under the IT Rules, 2021 and the Self-regulation Code of Over the Top Technology (OTT).

    The film, featuring Bollywood actor Aamir Khan’s son Junaid Khan, was set to release on June 14, but now also faces criticism from groups such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bajrang Dal for allegedly portraying Hindu religious leaders negatively.

    The petition filed in the High Court has called for the blocking of the movie’s release from the OTT platform under Rule 16 of the IT Rules that allows the “Blocking of information in case of emergency” by an authorised officer and Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, 2000, empowers the Central Government, or any of its authorised officer, to direct an intermediary to block public access to information generated, transmitted, received, stored or hosted in any computer resource.

    Rising censorship on OTT platforms in India

    Recently, Netflix took down a Tamil film ‘Annapoorani: The Goddess of Food’ after an FIR was filed against the movie by Ramesh Solanki, a Hindu IT Cell member, who claimed that some scenes in the film had hurt Hindu sentiments. The makers of the film Zee Studio were also compelled to apologize to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) in a letter stating that they did not intend to hurt sentiments of “Hindus and Brahmins.”  

    In 2023, Digital Publishers Content Grievances Council (DPCGC) , a self-regulatory body issued an order against streaming service ULLU to take down or make suitable edits to the content it found to be “obscene” and “objectionable”. 

    The public pressure to take down content is further exacerbated by the fact that the Government has also indicated that they wish to censure online content. The IT Ministry (Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology) had told the Delhi High Court in 2023 that it would develop rules to regulate vulgar language, profanity, and “bad words” on platforms, including on social media platforms, after being directed to do so following the obscenity trial against The Viral Fever’s OTT show “College Romance.”

    Similarly, the draft Broadcasting Services Regulation Bill, 2023, also attempted to address censorship by placing program and advertising codes that all broadcasters, including streaming services, must comply with.

    Why it matters

    The various cases of legal action and the regulatory shifts in India set a troubling precedent for content that can be shared online. A Washington Post published in 2023, detailed “culture of self-censorship” wherein the streaming services are backing out of creating stories, fearing retaliation. Thus, pushing for censorship sets a worrying precedent against the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression in India.

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    The post Gujarat HC stays the release of Netflix film ‘Maharaj’ until next hearing appeared first on MEDIANAMA.

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