While people often crib about the use of offensive or vulgar language on television, especially reality shows, according to data from the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, the government has not taken any action on any indecency complaints against television shows in the last two years.
In fact – according to the data that the ministry presented in the Lok Sabha as a response to a written query filed by three members of the house – private channels have only been pulled up twice in the last give years for any kind of indecency portrayed on their reality shows. In March 2014, Colors was issued an advisory in connection with Bigg Boss Season 7 and in January 2015 the same channel was warned and asked to run an apology scroll for its programme Fear Factor Khatron ke Khiladi – Darr ka Blockbuster.
Laughter programmes escape the radar
Incidentally, while a number of people have taken to social media to express their anger and angst about the offensive and indecent content shown on various channels, particularly the comedy shows, in the last couple of years, these have not caught the attention of the regulators.
This is a recent change though. In July 2006 The Great Indian Laughter Challenge on Star One was issued an advisory for violating the programme code and again in October 2008 for airing a derogatory remark against a particular community. Another show, Comedy Circus Mahasangram on Sony TV, was also found to be showing “indecent and child denigrating content” in July 2011 and was issued an advisory for this. But in the last six years these laughter shows have managed to escape the regulator’s probing eye.
Members of Parliament wanted to know if indecency and slovenliness is on the rise
The three MPs who filed the request, Dr. Bharatiben D. Shyal, Subhash Patel and Alok Sanjar, demanded to know if “indecency and slovenliness have been rising in the so-called reality shows being aired on various private channels in the country”. They also inquired about what action the government has taken in this regard.
In his reply, the Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting Rajyavardhan Rathore stated that as per the existing regulatory framework, the telecasting of content – including reality shows on private satellite TV channels – is regulated under the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995 (CTNA, 1995) and Cable Television Network Rules, 1994 (CTNR, 1994).
The Act, he said, “does not provide for pre-censorship of content telecast on such TV channels” but “prescribes that all programmes and advertisements telecast on such TV channels should be in conformity with the prescribed programme code and advertising code enshrined in the Act”.
The minister said the related rules contain a whole range of parameters to regulate programmes and advertisements. He said an inter-ministerial committee had been set up in the ministry to look into the specific complaints and take suo motu cognisance against the violation of programme and advertising codes. In the case of any violation, he said “appropriate action is taken as per Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995.”
30 cases of action against indecency in 11 years
The minister revealed that the ministry has taken action on a total of 30 complaints against reality or game shows since 2006 under the programme and advertising codes.
“The constitution through Article 19(2) allows State to impose reasonable restrictions on freedom of speech and expression on grounds of sovereignty and integrity of India, security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency, or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence through enactment of law,” he said.
This spirit of the constitution, he added was also reflected in the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995, which while upholding the freedom of speech in electronic media imposes reasonable restrictions in public interest. Section 5 of the Act provides that “no person shall transmit or re-transmit through a cable service any programme unless such programme is in conformity with the prescribed programme code,” he said in the written reply.