On Thursday, Netflix and nine other streaming platforms agreed to comply to a regulatory code in India going by the name of “Code of Best Practices for Online Curated Content Providers.”

Drawn up by the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), it states that the signatories will enforce the principles through “reasonable efforts and acting in good faith”. What this means exactly, and if there any potential punishments for not abiding by the code, remains unspecified.

Such principles, going under the title of “Prohibited Content”, include: “content which deliberately and maliciously disrespects the national emblem or national flag”, “intends to outrage religious sentiments”, or “maliciously promotes or encourages terrorism”. There are, however, no definitions of these broadly applicable and contested terms.

This news comes after a similar controversy wherein Netflix removed an episode of a comedy show from their Saudi Arabia service following an official legal request by the Kingdom. The debate over free expression in relation to movies in India was reopened recently following the controversial release of the movies Haider (2014) and Padmaavat (2018), which both offended the Hindu nationalist right-wing.

Netflix dismissed the suggestion that the code is tantamount to self-censorship, saying: “It ensures an environment that protects the artistic vision of content producers so that their work can be seen by their fans.”
The streaming service has millions of subscribers in the nation and expanding, and produces a large quantity of original content for Netflix India. Some anonymous Netflix sources claim that the this was agreed in an attempt to avoid “official government censorship”.

The non-profit Internet Freedom Foundation, based in Delhi, has written a letter to the IAMAI asking them to reconsider the code and criticized the lack of transparency or public representation, highlighting “The absence of experts and academics, free expression scholars [and] entrepreneurs”.

It’s likely that VPN use, which can provide unrestricted access to streaming service content across borders, will rise in a country where they are already quite popular.