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How OTTs have become weapons of choice for soft power attacks and subversion

OTTs can be potent weapon

Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, recently hit back at the international celebrities who had extended their support to the ongoing farmers’ protest by commenting on Twitter. Speaking in the Rajya Sabha on the motion of thanks to the President’s address, he said India was seeing increased FDI which was new. “There is a new FDI that the country has to be saved from…this is foreign destructive ideology,” he observed.

Mincing no words, PM’s brief comment, carries a lot of meaning. Without naming any person or organisation or nation, he made it clear that the government is aware of the malicious campaign being run to smear the country’s reputation. The obvious reference was to the tweets by singer Rihanna, adult star Mia Khalifa, author-lawyer Meena Harris, Greta Thunberg, the environmentalist, and others.

Following the PM’s statement, the Information and Broadcasting Minister, Prakash Javadekar informed the Rajya Sabha yesterday, that given the large number of platforms available for viewers on the OTT (over the top) — that is film and television content, which is provided via the Internet as opposed to the traditional means of a cable or satellite provider — there is a need to regulate their content.

Replying to Mahesh Poddar, a BJP member who had submitted that the content and language on OTT platforms was discriminatory and offensive, Javadekar stated: “Guidelines and direction are almost ready. It will be soon implemented.” Analysts point out that social media and OTT's have become a powerful tools to advance soft-power, and shape the cultural and political landscape of consuming societies and countries.

What is pertinent to note is that India, besides being defamed and maligned on social media, is also being targeted through visual medium as the OTT offerings consistently undermine the country’s social and cultural ethos.

The content of many films have courted controversy by hurting the sensibilities and sensitivities of Indians. For instance the Tandav series on Amazon Prime had created a furore as some scenes in it made derogatory reference to Hindu gods. Another web series Mirzapur courted controversy as a petition in Supreme Court alleged that the show maligned the image of Uttar Pradesh.

Netflix in its series Leila opens with the lynching of a Muslim man while his Hindu wife is arrested by the authoritarian regime and moved to a labour camp. It depicted their daughter being taken to a camp. Such imagery is bound to fuel passions both for and against a community, much to the detriment of Indian pluralistic society. In Sacred Games, through babas Hinduism was defamed and Sikh sentiments were hurt.

In his work, “A study of effects of web series and streaming content on youth”,Rahul Ahuja, Assistant Professor, Amity University, Patna, has concluded that web series and online streaming content have a huge impact on Indian youth. “The content showcased on OTT platforms filled with sexual, abusive and violent content together with alcohol and drugs have caused psychological effects on the Indian youth, where they have agreed to suffer from insomnia, depression and insecurities in their life.” Besides this, the study published in the International Journal Of Creative Research Thoughts on September 2020, also found that “the youth is also witnessing academic loss and are also getting prone to health issues. On the other side, the preference to binge watching is also affecting their relations with friends and family.”

Visual medium is more potent than mere comments on Twitter or Facebook. Why? The imagery catches an individual’s imagination faster and stays much longer. Historically, it was effectively used by Hitler to propagate Nazism while a south-based political party utilised it to garner popular support for their ideology.

From 1950s to 90s, Hollywood showcased Soviets in a bad light and as villains whose single-point mission was to overthrow the democratic governments of Europe and US by any means. It justified the Western intervention in the affairs of the West Asian region. India too has been a target of Hollywood movies as it is portrayed reeling under poverty and overpopulation while still hanging on to the snake and sadhu image of India.