Condom ad ban: govt of prudes

Condom ad ban: govt of prudes

The Narendra Modi government’s Information and Broadcasting ministry has become a sort of “operations centre” for the imposition of a puritanical worldview on a modernising India, with one sanskari minister or official after another showing off their penchant for needless moral policing of the media. The latest is I&B minister Smriti Irani imposing a ban on the airing of condom advertisements on television between 6 am and 10 pm. The ministry feels that such advertisements are “indecent, especially for children” and can spark “unhealthy practices”. The advisory has been issued under the Cable Television Networks Rules, 1994, which allows the government to ban television content that endangers the safety of children, creates an interest in unhealthy practices or shows them in an undignified or indecent manner”. The legality of the rule itself is questionable as it can be held that the sweeping and broad powers it gives the government violates the freedom of expression and freedom of the press on grounds similar to the ones on which the Supreme Court struck down section 66A of the IT Act two years ago.

The myopic focus on condom advertisements exposes a hypocritical mentality, which accepts use of sex to sell products, but turns squeamish when the actual act is referred to. Has the ministry not seen advertisements for other products, deodorants, for instance, that often have more sexual content than those for condoms? Are ‘item numbers’ and obscenity in movies that are often passed without proper certification appropriate for children? In an age when all information, images and video — good and bad — is available to children on the internet and on smartphones, does the ministry hope to be able to police all content? If the ministry truly has the best interests of children in mind, it should embark on an age-appropriate sex education campaign, including on television, rather than declaring sex a taboo subject and trying in vain to prevent access to such information.

The government itself has for years been keen to promote the use of condoms for family planning and safe sex. Despite that, less than 5% men use condoms. A country racing towards becoming the world’s most populous should rather be on an overdrive to promote the use of condoms by all sexually-active people, not only to prevent unwanted pregnancies but also to deal with the rising menace of sexually transmitted diseases. More awareness about family planning and safe sex, not less, is the need of the hour and television is an important medium to educate people. By adopting a prudish and paternalistic attitude, the I&B ministry maybe doing the general population, and children, more harm than good.

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