Naughty nights

The information and broadcasting ministry’s directive to two television channels to shift the broadcast of two programmes to a late night slot has again drawn attention to issues of adult content, how to judge it and who should do it.

The broadcasters of one programme, the reality show ‘Bigg Boss’, have secured a stay from the court on the ministry’s directive. The other programme is ‘Rakhi ka Insaaf’.

Both programmes are popular but have also invited much criticism. The ministry’s reason for the action is that there are many complaints against both of them. This is not a good enough reason for action.

It is possible to manipulate complaints against programmes. And how many complaints are needed to take action? The bureaucrats in the ministry cannot also be the people to sit in judgment over the suitability of programmes for broadcast.

Adult content is not easy to judge as the yardstick can be different in different contexts and for different programmes. Decisions on objectionable content can be subjective.

Wrong action can amount to censorship and an abridgement of the rights of the broadcaster and the viewer. Neither the Cable TV Networks Act or the Indecent  Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act is an adequate tool to deal with complaints of indecency. The ministry has in the past also issued advisories and notices for violation of its programme code but its procedures have lacked transparency.

There is always the fear of the Big Brother when the government intervenes in matters relating to freedom of expression, be they in visual, print or other media. In the case of guidelines, the authorities always tend to interpret them conservatively, and the media tend to stretch them to the most liberal extent. This gives scope for conflict.

It is best to shift the decisions on the suitability of content from the government to an independent regulator. The regulator can decide not only on matters relating to decency but those pertaining to national security or propriety which keep arising from time to time. Many other countries have such a mechanism as, for example, the Office of Communications in the UK which was set up in 2003.

There are clear schedules also elsewhere on when general viewing time ends and adult viewing period can start. The establishment of a regulatory authority and framing of clear guidelines will remove arbitrariness and subjectivity from decisions and make them convincing.

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