A Delhi High Court Bench of Justice Swarana Kanta Sharma has observed that the challenge for enacting appropriate law or guidelines to regulate content on OTT Platforms requires urgent attention. The Court was hearing appeals preferred by TVF Media Ltd. and its lead actors against the orders passed by the Sessions Court and ACMM for the registration of an FIR against them.

The Court has heavily condemned the language depicted in the web series "College Romance", and observed that it is obscenely vulgar. It has been strongly recommended that there is a need to regulate the content with vulgar language.

APP Naresh Kumar Chahar with SI Pawan Kumar appeared for the State. Senior Advocate Siddharth Aggarwal and Counsel Vinayak Mehrotra, among others, appeared for the Petitioners.

In this case, it was alleged by the complainant that the web series "College Romance" by TVF Media Ltd. contains vulgar and obscene material and depicts women in an indecent form.

The High Court observed that "this Court had watched a few episodes of the web series ‘College Romance’ and the episode in question and the episode in question to decide the case more effectively and fairly. The intent behind watching the said web series was to analyze fairly as to whether the contention raised on behalf of the petitioners that the language used in the web series is ‘in language’, or is ‘language used by new generation in colleges’, or ‘the students in law colleges and the younger generation in colleges uses this language only’, is without merit or not."

In light of the same, the Court observed that "After watching few episodes of the series as well as the episode in question, this Court found that the actors/protagonists in the web series are not using the language used in our country i.e. civil language. The Court not only found excessive use of ‘swear words’, ‘profane language’ and ‘vulgar expletives’ being used, it rather found that the web series had a series of such words in one sentence with few Hindi sentences here and there. In the episode in question, there is clear description and reference to a sexually explicit act. The Court had to watch the episodes with the aid of earphones, in the chamber, as the profanity of language used was of the extent that it could not have been heard without shocking or alarming the people around and keeping in mind the decorum of language which is maintained by a common prudent man whether in professional or public domain or even with family members at home. Most certainly, this Court notes that this is not the language that nation’s youth or otherwise citizens of this country use, and this language cannot be called the frequently spoken language used in our country".

Further, the Court analysed whether the web series content can deprave and corrupt persons of impressionable minds, as there is no warning, disclaimer or classification of this series to be viewed by persons 18 years or above. In that context, the Court held that "the language used in the web series is foul, indecent and profane to the extent that it will affect and will tend to deprave and corrupt impressionable minds. Therefore, on the basis of this finding it can be held that the content of the web series will certainly attract the criminality as envisaged under Section 67 of the Information Technology Act."

Noting that Article 19(2) of the Constitution lays down a restriction to the freedom of speech and expression conferred by Article 19(1), the Court was of the view that "In the name of individual freedom, such language cannot be permitted to be served to the general public and be represented to the world at large as if this is the language that this country and youth in educational institutions speaks. Holding so, will amount to a dangerous trend and will be against public interest. The individualistic choices, essentially in case they are of using such language, which remain in individualistic domain will not attract criminality and will not infringe the said person’s individual freedom. However, in the name of individual freedom, neither such language can be permitted to be served to all without classification and be represented to the world at large as the spoken language of this country, nor it can be permitted that the youth of this country be told that this language is the latest accepted normal behavior."

The Court also observed that the web series shows the distortion of the languages spoken in this country in the name of changing social reality and instead projects the use of expletives, cursing, swearing, and profanity as alternative realities represented by the youth of this country which amounts to a distortion of facts.

Observing that the Indian society has witnessed some social and cultural changes, which have extended to the electronic entertainment field as well, the Court held that "the present series ‘College Romance’ which allegedly shows the actual and real new generation cannot pass the test of public decency. The Indian cinema which has now also extended to such web series and other short films etc. at social media and OTT platforms, undoubtedly is not the same as was in the old films where the romance between two persons was symbolically shown by showing two birds or flowers meeting on the screen. The limit regarding how much the society has changed will still have to be defined and seen in practicality."

The High Court upheld the order of the ACMM to the extent of registration of FIR under Section 67 and Section 667A of the IT Act.

Subsequently, the Court drew the attention of the Ministry of Information and Technology to make any laws or rules deemed appropriate in its wisdom in light of the observations made in the Court's judgment.

Cause Title: TVF Media Labs Pvt. Ltd. & Ors. vs State (Govt. of NCT of Delhi) & Anr. (NEUTRAL CITATION NO. 2023/DHC/001676)

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