In the new world of streaming media, censorship is a four-letter word. Users expect to watch their favorite shows free from the kind of network TV strictures the governed television for their parents and grandparents. In the United States, for the most part, that expectation is met. But that’s not the case in some other markets.
In India, for example, streaming services like Netflix have to walk the increasingly fine line between pleasing fans and placating censors. The latest attempt at placation is, to many fans, a bridge too far. Netflix is one of nine different streaming platforms that recently signed India’s “code of best practices,” which promises that these companies will “self-regulate” content that gets streamed online. Examples of content considered unacceptable include anything that “disrespects the national emblem or national flag” of India, as well as “content that intends to outrage religious sentiments…”
Because Netflix is one of the most prominent American media companies that has admitted to signing the code, many free speech and open media proponents are castigating the company for “bowing to censorship.” Netflix,however, is taking the position that, while they signed the code agreement, that it does not amount to censorship. Their argument, in part, is: “The self-regulation code is a set of guiding principles for participating companies like us… It ensures an environment that protects the artistic vision of content producers so that their work can be seen by their fans.”
Some fans seized on the phrase “so that their work can be seen…” and interpreted that aspect of Netflix’s statement as if they were responding to the threat of a consequence if they did not abide by the “guidelines.” That if Netflix or any Netflix programming violated the expectations of the agreement, Indian media regulators could remove that program or rescind the streaming service’s right to broadcast. The IAMAI was quick to denounce that version of the story, telling news media that the code “is not about content censorship” but is, instead, meant to protect creative freedom and encourage consumer choices.
Fans, though, are simply not buying it. They are accusing Netflix of supporting oppressive strictures just for the opportunity to break into the massive and growing Indian media market. Some have compared this scenario to tech companies like Amazon and Google trying to break into the Chinese market, and, indeed, some of Netflix’s arguments echo those of Google in reference to Chinese censors. Regardless, though, at some point, the businesses involved in these negotiations and dealings understand that some compromises will have to be made. If Netflix and Google want to break into these respective markets, they have to play by their rules, regardless of what fans may think of the decision.
The challenge, then, is to use an effective public relations strategy to communicate those realities in a way that the majority of fans will accept.
CEO Ronn Torossian is one of America’s leading public relations executives.