Movie Theatre, Kerala HC
Movie Theatre, Kerala HC

[FACT CHECK] Kerala High Court did not suggest embargo on film reviews for 48 hours from movie release

The suggestion was made by Senior Advocate Shyam Padman, who was appointed as amicus curiae by Justice Devan Ramachandran to assist the Court in considering a petition that highlighted the issue of review bombing.

Over the past week, social media has been rife with reports that the Kerala High Court had suggested that online movie reviews be deferred for 48 hours from the time of the release of the movie.

With the story getting even national coverage, certain articles and social media posts started cropping up alleging that the High Court is wasting its time considering such a matter when case pendency stares it in its face.

However, Bar & Bench has verified the High Court never made the suggestion in the first place, a fact which netizens seemed to have skipped over.

In fact, the suggestion was made by Senior Advocate Shyam Padman, who is the amicus curiae appointed by single-judge Justice Devan Ramachandran to assist the Court in the matter concerning the issue of review bombing.

Most reports have also missed the fact that the 48-hour embargo suggested by the amicus was only on movie reviews by social media influencers on platforms like YouTube, Facebook, Instagram etc. and not on all reviews and critiques.

"Wait 48 Hours Before Reviewing: Vloggers should refrain from dissecting a movie in the name of film review within the first 48 hours of a movie's release. This cooling-off period allows viewers to form their own opinions without being unduly influenced by early, potentially biased reviews," the report submitted by the amicus curiae said.

The case before the Court was a petition moved by Mubeen Rauf, the director of the film "Aromalinte Adyathe Pranayam” which highlighted the harm to the film industry due to the unrestrained negative criticism by bloggers and bloggers.

A main point raised in the petition was about review bombing, a relatively new phenomenon which involves coordinated efforts by individuals with a specific agenda or bias, to manipulate the ratings and reviews of a movie, often motivated by reasons unrelated to its actual quality.

They often do so by leaving a large number of negative reviews or ratings for a particular film on platforms such as movie review websites or social media platforms such as IMDb, BookMyShow, Rotten Tomatoes, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram etc.

When the matter came up before the Court in early October, Justice Ramachandran had noted that movie industry could be subjected to denigration on account of the actions of a few people whose intent is extortion and blackmail.

Justice Devan Ramachandran
Justice Devan Ramachandran

The Court had, therefore, sought the response of the State Police Chief on implementing protocols to ensure that action is taken on those who post derogatory and calculated movie reviews on the internet.

Since the issue was one that is relatively new and required some research to understand, the Court had appointed Senior Advocate Shyam Padman as amicus curiae.

"Every movie is an intellectual property. Apart from being so, it also entails reputation, sweat, blood and aspirations of several people, not merely the producers, lead stars, or the directors," the Court had observed in one of its interim orders.

During subsequent hearings, the Court called for close monitoring of online platforms and urged the authorities to act against malicious anonymous content by invoking the relevant provisions of the Information Technology Act (IT Act) without delay.

"The reputation of individuals behind a film cannot be sacrificed at the alter of unbridled freedom of expression asserted by individuals, who act under the mistaken impression that they are not governed by any parameters/regulations, particularly when there is nothing on record to show that any of them are registered, akin to Journalists or such other service providers", the Court said.

During a hearing in February this year, Padman offered to go through the protocols that were placed on record by the State Police Chief and suggest whether any fine-tuning would be required.

Subsequently, the amicus filed his report on March 12.

In his report, Padman distinguished nuanced movie reviews by film critics such as Anupama Chopra and Baradwaj Rangan who are part of Film Critics Guild, from reviews by social media influencers.

The issue of reviews by social media influencers had not been addressed by the State Police Chief in the protocol submitted before the Court, the report noted.

Padman pointed out that the Department of Consumer Affairs had taken note of the influence wielded by bloggers and had issued guidelines regarding advertisements and paid partnership posts. Similar steps must be taken by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, the amicus curiae asserted.

It is in this regard that Padman proposed the 48-hour waiting period.

This was only one among the many guidelines he proposed for "regulation of social media influencers engaged in film reviewing.

The other proposed guidelines for the conduct of influencers are as follows:

  • Maintain respectful tone and avoid disrespectful language and personal attacks;

  • Provide constructive criticism rather than simply tearing a film apart;

  • Avoid spoiling major plot points;

  • Fact check reviews;

  • Consider the impact of reviews on the film industry;

  • Comply with legal and ethical standards including copyright laws, privacy rights, and the community guidelines of the social media platform they use;

  • Maintain professionalism;

  • Use their platforms ethically and avoid sensationalizing and click-bailting; and

  • Comply with the Guidelines for Prevention of Misleading Advertisements and Endorsements for Misleading Advertisements, 2022, as issued by the Central Consumer Protection Authority for Influencer Advertising in Digital Media.

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