The industry of video streaming sites has gained popularity in recent times as a result of internet dominancy. A video streaming site is a portal for the public where they can have access to a wide range of movies and television series for a monthly subscription fee. Notable names of such operating on the global scale would be Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, HBO Go etc.
Bangladesh is not too far behind in joining this new offshoot of the entertainment industry. In recent years, platforms such as Bioscope, Binge, Bongobd, BanglaFlix surfaced; some as independent providers and some as a part of the telecom operators. Some of their contents have already attracted a considerable number of audiences of all ages.
There is a huge opportunity for Bangladesh to enter into the international media and also to dominate this sector through over-the-top (OTT) platforms. However, 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 also a unique and rich language.
Moreover, Bengali is the fifth most-spoken native language and the seventh most spoken language by the total number of speakers in the world and approximately 265 million people speak Bengali all over the world.
In May 2019, BTRC and a private management consulting firm estimated that Netflix has more than two lakh subscribers in our country and the streaming giant earned more than Tk180 crore a year from its subscribers only.
It is notable that, the first language of those who subscribe Netflix in our country is Bengali, not English. So, there is no doubt that a huge opportunity is available in this sector for Bangladesh.
The trend of web-series is new in our country and recently, there have been some controversies over the moral grounds of some contents showed in some Bengali web-series. Despite Bangladesh's enriched entertainment industry, due to the lack of regulatory parameters, movies and series containing inappropriate scenes are being allowed to be aired for the general public.
So, proper policies should be taken from the beginning to make the contents acceptable to everyone because this sector holds an enormous potentiality for the country.
However, moral justification is difficult to define because it may change over time or place. For example, some forms of nudities are not viewed as obscene in the Western countries, but those may be considered obscene in our cultural context.
Now, what should be our policies on these issues? Should we accept contents regardless of our social and cultural values? In my opinion, we must reject it, because our culture and society will never accept it or not ready yet to accept it.
Every sovereign country is regulated by its 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 the country.
Pornography is a criminal offence under the Control of Pornography Act, 2012. Pornography has been defined by the section 2 (c) (1) "Any obscene dialogue, act, gesture, nude or half-naked that causes sexual arousal which is film, video image, audiovisual image, still image, captured or displayed in graphics or any other way and has no artistic or educational value".
Some web-series makers could feel offended when their creations are labelled as pornography, but their defence is available in the above definition where it mentioned the "artistic" and "educational" value of the content. In my opinion, if there is any allegation of obscenity against any web-series, its creators have a chance to challenge it if they think that it has some artistic or educational value. This is the beauty of the legal system and the rule of law.
Pornography has also been defined by the Cable TV Network Management Act, 2006 under section 2, sub-section 2 in connection with section 19, sub-section 9.
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 they are allowed to pass necessary order at any time.
In my opinion, the commission is already empowered to control the telecommunication services and it could take initiative to control the immoral and irresponsible video contents available on the website at any time. On the other hand, the government could pass the necessary order to protect the country's interests in case of revenue collection process or something else until the enactment of any specific regulation for this issue.
Proper regulation is very essential mainly for two reasons. First, the government may earn revenue appropriately and second, the proper authority may monitor and control the web-based platform by making the age limit guidelines for both the audience and the maker by imposing clear restrictions on immoral and irrepressible video content, giving security for the makers in case of the copyright, ensuring the protection of the subscriber in case of their rights and so on.
There are many talented film/drama/web-series makers or directors in our country who are capable enough to create international standard contents. However, international standard does not mean adopting western culture in our audiovisual contents rather we should promote our own culture to them.
M Tanvir Ahmed, writ petitioner regarding the issue and advocate, Supreme Court of Bangladesh; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org