OTT platform Hotstar has rejected grievance complaints against its series ‘The Empire’ on Babur which dramatises the Mughal invader, claiming that it is based on an adaptation of a novel, Empire of the Moghul – Raiders from the North, written by one Alex Rutherford which fictionalised historical events. Hotstar responded to the grievance by Vikas Pandey, a software professional and activist, on Wednesday after various viewers had sent complaints to the grievance officer earlier.
Complaints were sent to the grievance officer appointed under Information Technology (Guidelines for intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, which requires digital news media and online publishers to adhere to the “Code of Ethics” as prescribed by the rules.
In the trailer, ‘Babur’ says that no matter how much life fights, eventually it is death that wins and that he has been fighting and fighting with death since age 14. In the 2 minute, 40 second trailer, ‘Babur’ is made to understand how he is to ensure that all subjects in his empire are taken care of. However, after losing Samarkand, he heads for India to defeat the Lodhi dynasty and establish Mughal rule.
The grievance officer claims that the trailer is supposed to be a glimpse of the series and will have an element of curiosity. Interestingly, in the entire trailer, there is no mention of the atrocities carried out by Babur, especially the persecution of Hindus in their own land, which could have been included to raise curiosity.
As per the complainant, the web series on Hotstar is objectionable since Babur was a murderer, and has killed lakhs of Hindus in his conquest of India, and also destroyed the Ram Janmbhumi. The Complainant objected to the glorification of the character ‘Babar’. The complainant alleges that Babar’s actions, even after more than 500 years, are cause of pain for Hindus across the world and hence the show can cause a serious law and order condition in India.
However, Hotstar grievance officer claimed that this depiction does not glorify Babur. Hotstar claims that the web series does not make reference to the 2019 Supreme Court judgement in favour of Ram Lalla Virajman at the Ram Janmabhoomi temple where the disputed structure, often referred to as Babri Masjid, stood. The Babri Masjid was built by Babur’s aide after demolishing the ancient temple of Lord Ram in Ayodhya. The complainant, however, made talked about how Babur being responsible for killing and forced religious conversion of lakhs of Hindus as well as the subsequent demolishing of the temple and construction of a mosque in his name over the same land is what is hurtful. So, the fact that whether or not the court judgement or the temple is included in the web series, the glorification of a barbaric Mughal emperor could still hurt the religious sentiments of people appears to be lost on the grievance officer.
Hotstar finds a precedence for rejecting complaints based on trailers
Accusing the complainant of ‘prejudging’ the show based on a trailer, which Hotstar claims shows just part of the show to create excitement, Hotstar claimed that earlier, too, no grievance complaint was entertained when it was based on a trailer. Hostar claimed that on 18th June 2021 and 22nd June 2021, a similar complaint was received by the platform for their show ‘Grahan’ on behalf of Nirpreet Kaur & Ors., and Delhi Sikh Gurudwara Management Committee (DSGMC) respectively. Hotstar claimed that complainants had raised concerns over the depiction of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.
Claiming that the trailer is meant to generate curiosity, Hotstar rejected the grievance complaint without merit and dismissed the same. The complainants had alleged that from the trailer, it appeared like a false narrative was being created that the turbaned men/Sikh men were involved in arson and violence during the riots. Hotstar, however, dismissed the allegations claiming it was just a trailer and the apprehensions that such portrayal of Sikhs could incite/promote communal disharmony was ‘premature’.
Relying on his own judgement on the previous ‘Grahan’ controversy, Hotstar’s grievance officer claimed that the allegations by so many viewers whose religious sentiments were hurt were ‘misplaced’. The grievance officer then asked the complainant to approach him again after the show should he feel aggrieved even after its release.
It appears that any future complaints based on trailers would be summarily rejected by Hotstar, and possibly by other OTT platforms too, as the company has treated the Grahan episode as precedence to be followed in future cases.
Court gives relief to OTTs
Recently, Bombay High Court gave relief to OTTs and stayed two provisions of Information Technology (Guidelines for intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, which requires the digital news and media portals to adhere to ‘code of ethics’. The court stayed two rules, 9 (1) and 9 (3) as it observed that prima facie these provisions infringe upon the fundamental right to freedom of speech and also go against the substantive provisions of the Information Technology Act 2002.