Should the government be regulating the business of streaming content?
In recent times, video streaming sites have gained greater popularity. These are essentially portals for the public to gain access to a wide-range of movies and television shows for a monthly subscription fee. Notable names of such sites on the global scale would be Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, HBO Go.
Bangladesh is not too far behind in joining the new off-shoot of the entertainment-industry. Platforms such as Bioscope, Binge, Bongobd, BanglaFlix have surfaced, some as independent providers and some as a part of the telecom operators.
There is a huge opportunity to enter into the international media and also to dominate this sector through Over-The-Top (OTT) platforms. It may sound like a fairy tale but it has a real basis, because Bangladesh is the only country in the world that has fought for the language, and Bengali is a unique and rich language -- Bengali is the fifth most-spoken native language, and the seventh most spoken language by total number of speakers in the world. Approximately 265 million people speak Bengali all over the world.
In May 2019, BTRC and a private management consulting firm estimated that Netflix had more than 200,000 subscribers in our country and as per the subscribers only, Netflix earned more than Tk180 crore in a year.
But currently the numbers would be higher. It is notable that for those who are subscribers in Netflix from our country, their first language is Bengali, not English. So, there is no doubt that a large opportunity is available in this sector.
The trend of web-series is quite new in our country, but recently, some Bengali web series content has been criticized by the general public for moral reasons. This should be regulated from the beginning. Every sovereign country is regulated by their own laws, and the laws are enacted by the parliament according to the needs of the people. Bangladesh is a sovereign country, and also has some laws to regulate matters such as content.
For example, pornography is a criminal offense under the Control of Pornography Act, 2012. Pornography has been defined by the Section 2 (c) (1).: “Any obscene dialogue, act, gesture, nude […] captured or displayed in graphics or any other way and has no artistic or educational value.” It is mentionable that, some web-series makers feel offended when their creations have been alleged by the pornography act, but in the above definition their defense is available in “has no artistic or educational value.”
In my opinion, if any web-series maker feels that their video content has logically artistic or educational value, they might challenge the accuser, and this is a beauty of the legal system and the rule of law.
Bangladesh Telecommunications Act, 2001 (amended-2010) empowered the Telecommunication Commission to control the telecommunication services under Section 11 and Section 12 provides that, if the government wants at any time, it is allowed to pass necessary order of direction. In my opinion, the commission already empowered to control the telecommunication services and commission could take initiative to control the immoral and irresponsible video content available in websites at any time.
On the other hand, the government could pass a necessary order to protect the country interests in case of revenue collection or other processes, until the enactment of any specific regulation for this issue.
Proper regulation is essential for two aspects. Firstly, the government may earn revenue properly and secondly, there will be proper monitoring and control of the web-based platforms by making the age limit guidelines for both audience and the maker, imposing clear restrictions on immoral and objectionable content, giving security for the makers in case of copyright, ensuring protection of the subscriber rights, and so on.
There are so many talented film/drama/web-series makers or directors in our country who are capable enough to create international standard film/drama/web-series, and in my opinion, international standard doesn’t necessarily mean bringing Western culture into our own productions.
M Tanvir Ahmed is an Advocate, Supreme Court Of Bangladesh.