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Digital’s Role In Society Threatened By Censorship In India: Star India CEO Uday Shankar

Star India Chairman and CEO, Uday Shankar, outlined how censorship in the recent months has led to an environment which prevents the full use of the Internet’s freedom of expression.

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Star India Chairman and CEO, Uday Shankar, outlined how censorship in the recent months has led to an environment which prevents the full use of the Internet’s freedom of expression.

Shankar highlighted that, “The openness of the internet was supposed to lead to greater plurality of opinions, instead it has created a violent polarity. A forced extremism on every matter that has made gray the least acceptable color in all discourse. As a society we have raised the stakes of every argument to narrowly legal and brutally physical consequences. There seems to be no room left to have civil debates and no place for those who disagree. Punishment for disagreement seems to have become the norm. The institutions tasked with protecting expression and plurality, seem to be at loggerheads with the objective itself.”

Shankar who is also the Chairman, FICCI Media & Entertainment Committee, was speaking at the inauguration of FICCI Frames 2017 event. He said that this new environment makes it difficult to predict the future of digital in India. “Are we going to see a digital divide or a digital dividend? Personally, I find predicting the future to be a tricky business -especially when it involves adoption of new technology.”

India has seen the adoption of digital rise tremendously in the recent years and is now one of the largest markets for mobile apps. Shankar believes that the home-grown apps have given stiff competition to the global giants in all fields. “The digital story for the M&E sector continues to look exciting and it is already the next big destination for the global digital giants like Netflix and Amazon Prime. The stories of bottomless war-chests may or may not be hyperbole, but, it does give us a sense of the competition that they see from home-grown digital enterprises like Hotstar, Voot and the others. If there is one thing we know for sure, it is that this year we will see a lot more lively activity on this front. The technology, that some of us have introduced in this country is as good if not better than the best in the world. Combined with the reset in costs and quality benchmarks led by Reliance Jio, this has driven the adoption by the Indian consumer at a breathtaking pace,” he opined.

But this great digital story of India seems to be marred lately with the rise of extremism in the country. As extremism leads to censorship of other opinions, Mr Shankar expressed concern for the future of content creators from all walks of the industry and hampers the growth of technological advancements in the country. “As the world gets bolder, our censor authorities seem to be getting more and more conservative.”, he pointed out outlining that in 2015-16 the Censor Board refused certification to 77 movies which was much higher than 47 in 2014-15 and 23 in 2013-14.

“There is a long list of instances where the creative community has been bullied into changing its output to suit the needs of someone or the other in India. It seems that there are always people lurking in the shadows. Their sole job is to stretch and explore every piece of content that could be potentially offensive to someone,” he highlights.

He concludes with the need for a more progressive approach to digital, giving the creative community the chance to stretch boundaries without the fear of censorship. “The question today is – will digital play the same role for our generation and our country? The role of a progressive challenger, the role of providing a bigger canvas to creativity and creating a space for dissenting points of view. This new medium has the ability to truly democratise broadcasting. It offers the creative community the rare opportunity to rethink from scratch their art and how it is communicated. Only when modern technology and contemporary creativity truly come together, will we create a compelling and powerful media and entertainment offering,” he added.

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