The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), on Thursday, asked Netflix to stop streaming Bombay Begums citing inappropriate portrayal of children in the web series. According to the reports, the apex child rights body issued a notice to the OTT platform and has asked them to furnish a detailed action report within 24 hours, failing which it said it would be constrained to initiate appropriate legal action.
The NCPCR is mainly objecting to the alleged inappropriate portrayal of children in the series. The commission said that this type of content will not only pollute the young minds but may also result in the abuse and exploitation of children. NCPCR took action based on a complaint that alleged the series normalising minors indulging in casual sex and drug abuse.
In its notice, the commission stated, "Netflix should take extra precaution while streaming any content in respect of the children or for the children and shall also refrain themselves from getting into such things." The notice continues, "Therefore, you are directed to look into this matter and immediately stop streaming of this series and furnish a detailed action report within 24 hours, failing which the Commission will be constrained to initiate appropriate action pursuant to the provisions of Section 14 of the CPCR (Commission for Protection of Child Rights) Act, 2005.”
For those who don’t know, Bombay Begums is a web series that released on March 8. It delves into the lives of five women from different sections of society who all want different things in life. One of the five ‘Begums’ – casting Pooja Bhatt, Shahana Goswami, Amruta Subhash and Plabita Borthakur - is a young girl Shai Irani played by Aadhya Anand.
The director of the series, Alankrita Shrivastava has been under fire for displaying ‘sexual content and language’ earlier as well. Her 2017 film, Lipstick Under My Burkha, was initially denied a release in India. The Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) had refused a certificate for her movie because of the sexual content and language used in the film.
The NCPCR’s notice is because of complaints by two Twitter handles - @GemsOfBollywood and @DeepikaBhardwaj – to the chairman of the commission, Priyank Kanoongo.
The commission took notice of the tweets under Section 13 (1) (j) of CPCR [the Commissions for Protection of Child Rights] Act 2005.
OTT, now regulated
In February, the government introduced a three-tier mechanism labelled as a ‘Soft-Touch Regulatory Architecture’. The three-level check structure enables the creators to first oversee their content, followed by the platform to self-regulate in case of any discrepancy, after which the government can step-in for a check.
The Ministry of Information & Broadcasting decided to regulate the content on Indian social media and OTT platforms with a notification released on February 25. In the rules, referred to as the ‘publishers of online curated content,’ the platforms would require to self-classify the content into five age-based categories - U (Universal), U/A 7+, U/A13+, U/A 16+, and A (Adult).
According to the press release by the Press Information Bureau (PIB) the OTT platforms ‘would be required to implement parental locks for content classified as U/A 13+ or higher and reliable age verification mechanisms for content classified as 'A''. The publisher of online curated content shall prominently display the classification rating specific to each content or programme together with a content descriptor informing the user about the nature of the content, and advising on viewer description (if applicable) at the beginning of every programme enabling the user to make an informed decision, prior to watching the programme.’
Netflix’s policies for child protection
The subscription-based OTT platform allows the subscribers to control the watchable content on their account. Their page on ‘Parental Control on Netflix’ elaborates on how a parent can ‘manage their profiles individually or create a profile with the Netflix Kids experience with titles just for kids.’
The platform with over 200 million subscribers around the world goes on to explain the step-by-step process of filtering content for the subscriber’s family. It further provides a choice to the subscriber to ‘Create a profile with a specific maturity rating,’ and/or ‘Choose maturity ratings or block shows,’ among other options.
Mission MIB (Ministry of Information and Broadcasting)
The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology issued a notification on February 25 titled ‘IT (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021.’ The notification mentions the classification of the content generated by the OTT platforms as well as other media bodies.
The Part II of the Code of Ethics is the part of the ‘guidelines comprises the issues and concerns that apply in varying degrees to all categories of classification and elaborates the general approach that may be taken in this regard to the same.’
Mentioned under ‘Imitable Behaviour’ of Part II, ‘Portrayal of potentially dangerous behaviour that are likely to incite the commission of any offence (including suicide, and infliction of self-harm) and that children and young people may potentially copy, shall receive a higher classification,’ is mentioned.
OTT content under a scanner
In view of controversies stemming from shows like Tandav and Mirzapur 2, the central government recently tightened its grip on the OTT content. Following the trend, this is the third web series to come under the scanner. Meanwhile, its yet to be seen whether the international subscription-based platform heeds to the notice or defends its stand.